Sunspots follow an approximate 11-year cycle, corresponding to increases in solar activity. This solar activity causes geomagnetic effects during the peaks, but effects on earth’s magnetic field also occur during the minimums. Using these observations, scientists have predicted that the next solar maximum, expected to peak in 2010, could be the most intense ever.
The measurement that allows the the prediction is called Inter-hour Variability. Combined with another observation on the sun, Physicist David Hathaway noticed a correlation that allowed prediction of solar activity 6-8 years later. In his observations, the last time something similar to the IHV measurements he sees today happened was about 50 years ago.
Watching The Dance
Aside from the fact that most children would use the same crayons to draw both sunspots and honeybees, how could they two be related?
Barbara Shipman, mathematician and daughter of a bee researcher, first noticed something peculiar about the dance bees use to describe where pollen sources are located to other bees. Observed over 40 years by Karl von Firsh, these movements seemed an overly complex way to convey information, especially in insect behavior. No one had yet made sense of the dance the bee scouts performed on returning to a hive, but one thing was clear. All of the dance was based on a triangulation of the hive, the food source, and the sun.