The Termination Event

June 10, 2021: Something big may be about to happen on the sun. “We call it the Termination Event,” says Scott McIntosh, a solar physicist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), “and it’s very, very close to happening.”

If you’ve never heard of the Termination Event, you’re not alone.  Many researchers have never heard of it either. It’s a relatively new idea in solar physics championed by McIntosh and colleague Bob Leamon of the University of Maryland – Baltimore County. According to the two scientists, vast bands of magnetism are drifting across the surface of the sun. When oppositely-charged bands collide at the equator, they annihilate (or “terminate”). There’s no explosion; this is magnetism, not anti-matter. Nevertheless, the Termination Event is a big deal. It can kickstart the next solar cycle into a higher gear.

Above: Oppositely charged magnetic bands (red and blue) march toward the sun’s equator where they annihilate one another, kickstarting the next solar cycle. [full caption]

“If the Terminator Event happens soon, as we expect, new Solar Cycle 25 could have a magnitude that rivals the top few since record-keeping began,” says McIntosh.

This is, to say the least, controversial. Most solar physicists believe that Solar Cycle 25 will be weak, akin to the anemic Solar Cycle 24 which barely peaked back in 2012-2013. Orthodox models of the sun’s inner magnetic dynamo favor a weak cycle and do not even include the concept of “terminators.”

“What can I say?” laughs McIntosh. “We’re heretics!”

The researchers outlined their reasoning in a December 2020 paper in the research journal Solar Physics. Looking back over 270 years of sunspot data, they found that Terminator Events divide one solar cycle from the next, happening approximately every 11 years. Emphasis on approximately. The interval between terminators ranges from 10 to 15 years, and this is key to predicting the solar cycle.

Above: The official forecast for Solar Cycle 25 (red) is weak; McIntosh and Leamon believe it will be more like the strongest solar cycles of the past.

“We found that the longer the time between terminators, the weaker the next cycle would be,” explains Leamon. “Conversely, the shorter the time between terminators, the stronger the next solar cycle would be.”

Example: Sunspot Cycle 4 began with a terminator in 1786 and ended with a terminator in 1801, an unprecedented 15 years later. The following cycle, 5, was incredibly weak with a peak amplitude of just 82 sunspots. That cycle would become known as the beginning of the “Dalton” Grand Minimum.

Solar Cycle 25 is shaping up to be the opposite. Instead of a long interval, it appears to be coming on the heels of a very short one, only 10 years since the Terminator Event that began Solar Cycle 24. Previous solar cycles with such short intervals have been among the strongest in recorded history.

These ideas may be controversial, but they have a virtue that all scientists can appreciate: They’re testable. If the Termination Event happens soon and Solar Cycle 25 skyrockets, the “heretics” may be on to something. Stay tuned for updates.

15 thoughts on “The Termination Event

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  3. One item to note cycle 25 will be a weak one the termination event that started cycle 24 was officially noted as December of 2008 or 13 years ago.

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  4. How does this fit in with prediction of a grand minimum coming that will produce so few solar flairs that we will experience a mini ice age?

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    • “How does this fit in with prediction of a grand minimum coming that will produce so few solar flairs that we will experience a mini ice age?”

      It doesn’t. There was no such prediction.

      Because no astrophysicists predicted a “grand minimum” and no climate scientist predicted a “mini ice age”, although you wouldn’t know this reading the British tabloid press or watching Fox News.

      This was a climate denial talking point invented by a PR firm funded by the Koch brothers along with coal and oil interests. You would often see a reference to low sunspot activity centuries ago, which very roughly and loosely correlated with cold weather in Europe. But this was before the Industrial Revolution, and today the atmosphere is so overloaded with carbon emissions that any decline in sunspot activity would have no cooling effect.

      This same secretive PR group worked for the tobacco companies saying there was no evidence that smoking caused lung cancer. In fact they used some of the same pseudo-scientists in both their tobacco and climate disinformation.

      A hilarious example was Fred Singer (who passed away recently), neither a medical or climate expert, but a statistician-for-hire who said there was absolutely no correlation between smoking and lung cancer, and later carbon and global warming. I saw a Canadian television documentary showing him denying climate change, then a much earlier clip in which he said smoking did not cause lung cancer. But you never saw this revelation on Fox News.

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  8. From reading the December 2020 paper referenced above, it appears the previous termination event (which is different than the traditionally measured end of a solar cycle) occurred near the end of January 2011. (Table 1 in the above referenced journal article.)

    If the termination event has actually not happened yet (as of this article’s date in June 2021), then we’re nearing 10 years, 5 months since the previous termination event. With this duration between events, figure 4 would suggest a stronger than expected cycle, though perhaps not one that “rivals the top few since record-keeping began.”

    Furthermore, the December 2020 article uses a May 2020 (+4 months, -1.5 months) prediction for the termination event, so if the termination event has not yet happened as of this article’s date in June 2021, the claim for an unusually strong cycle 25 may no longer be valid.

    However, if termination events can only be definitively dated in hindsight (as is the case with many natural phenomena, including traditional solar cycle end-dates), then perhaps aurora watchers, space weather enthusiasts, and solar astronomers can yet hold out hopes for a stronger cycle! (And conversely, satellite operators and grid managers should remain vigilant and prepare for the possibility of an exceedingly strong cycle.)

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  11. I stand by MY prediction. Similar to cycle 24, double peaked farther apart than cycle 24.
    I wish someone could explain that crazy anomaly that happened last December though…

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