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Scientists Grapple Over Sunspot Cycle

Solar News
FYI: History and Images of Sunspots

Dec 13, 2006
(AP) Scientists are deadlocked over the severity of the next sunspot cycle, which could produce powerful solar storms that can disrupt communication systems on Earth.A panel of space weather forecasters has been sifting through about three dozen predictions from 15 nations that differ widely in how intense the next solar cycle will be. The group, run by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and funded by NASA, aims to make an official prediction in spring 2007.While scientists have observed sunspots _ dark, cool blemishes _ on the sun's surface since the days of Galileo, they've been unable to accurately forecast the severity of the eruptions associated with the spots. Sunspots are best known for triggering solar flares.The debate over the next cycle, known as solar cycle 24, has been "passionate," said Douglas Biesecker, a physicist at NOAA's Space Environment Center who heads the panel.No clear prediction has emerged yet from the various computer models that simulate the sun's activity, Biesecker said Tuesday during a meeting of the American Geophysical Union.Forecasts vary so wildly that predictions for the peak sunspot number range from 42 to 185.

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