December 6, 2013
NOTE: Building 34, Room W150
UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND AND GODDARD SPACE FLIGHT
"The Solar Cycle Conundrum"
We have known for 170 years
that sunspots come and go on a roughly 11-year timescale.
Despite many efforts to develop empirical or physical models of
the solar cycle, we have failed to find a method of predicting
the timing or amplitude of an upcoming solar cycle with any
degree of confidence. While this was once considered an
interesting intellectual exercise to test how well we understood
the inner workings of the Sun, it now has become an important
economic issue as our dependence on space technology increases.
The vulnerability of our space assets to space weather effects
increases with the solar activity levels that are driven by the
The Sun is a magnetic variable star so we will look at the basic
characteristics of the solar dynamo that have to be reproduced
by any viable solar cycle model. Then we will briefly discuss
some of the techniques used to predict solar activity and see
how well they have done so far in predicting the current solar
cycle. Using extended observations of the Sun’s magnetic field
from SOHO and various ground-based observatories in conjunction
with coronal imaging has led us to find some new patterns in
solar activity that have shown promise in predicting certain
aspects of the solar cycle. One of the main problems we face in
understanding the solar cycle is that the Sun is under sampled.
We will discuss a potential new solar mission that would provide
new insights into the solar cycle.
About the speaker:
Dr. Keith Strong attained his undergraduate degree in Astronomy
at University College, London. He studied X-ray spectroscopy for
his Ph.D. thesis at the Mullard Space Science Laboratory. He
flew two sounding rockets from Woomera as part of his research.
He was a candidate for payload specialist on the Spacelab II
mission. That is where he met Loren Acton who hired him to work
at the Lockheed Palo Alto Research Laboratory after he got his
Ph.D. in 1979.
He started as a data analyst on the Solar Maximum Mission
project and was appointed the U.S. Principal Investigator of the
SMM X-ray Polychromator experiment in 1984. After SMM “came
home,” he worked in Japan on the Yohkoh program helping to set
up the SXT scientific observing program. In 1995 he became
manager of the Lockheed Martin Solar & Astrophysics
Laboratory, where he was part of the TRACE team. He chaired the
2000 Sun-Earth Connection Roadmap Committee that put the “Living
With a Star” program in place. The laboratory won several solar
instrument contracts for STEREO, Hinode, and SDO while branching
out into Earth Sciences (Triana and the GOES-R Lightning
Mapper), Astronomy (JWST NIRCam and GLAST) and space weather
monitoring (NOAA GOES-N SXI and the GOES-R SUVI instruments).
He retired from Lockheed Martin in 2007 and has been doing solar
research at NASA GSFC ever since, most recently through an
appointment at the University of Maryland, College Park,
Astronomy Department. His chief interests at the moment are the
solar cycle, the Sun’s role in climate change, and education and
public outreach. As a hobby he runs a YouTube channel that
mainly details daily solar activity, regularly updates global
climate results, and sometimes debunks end-of-the-world
scaremongering. His channel has over 900 videos with nearly 2
million views and over 7,000 subscribers.