SOLAR ACTIVITY, SUN PLANET CYCLES AND THE WORLD OF FINANCE
How often have you heard people say they are ‘out of sorts’ ? How revealing it is to then learn that they were born on a day of peak solar activity and that we are going through a time of negligible activity? Just knowing that the Sun, the great giver of life is at a quite different stage in its cycle to the one they experienced at entry may be illuminating in the finest sense.
It is unfortunate that as yet we know so little about our special star, the Sun – a seemingly never-ending gigantic atomic explosion whose place in our universe we understand through the concept of the year but whose rhythms remain something of a mystery. What we do know is that the Sun generates enough power in 1 second to meet the energy needs of the US for four million years. It has a pulse that ‘pounds’ every 160 minutes, a cycle of sunspots and even periods when it is retrograde. We know too that the Sun is made up of seven layers: a photosphere and chromosphere, convection and radiation zones and an interface between the two. It is likely that there are pulses within each.
Our Sun at first appears to be a chaotic structure. However, the more we probe, the more we discover it to have set rhythms. It has long been conjectured that the planets held by its gravitational pull might also have effect on its behaviour. The truth may be far more complex – and exciting. (Read Gregory Sams’ fascinating book ‘Sun of gOd’ for thoughts on our sun’s consciousness.)
Astro-economists look at all manner of cosmic cycles from the seasons through to sunspots, solar flares, solar magnetic storms and solar retrograde periods through which to make their forecasts. Helioseismology, the science of the Sun, is still in its infancy but there is no doubt that greater knowledge will bring mankind greater understanding of economic life-cycles.
Through understanding of the seasons, the planting and harvesting of crops, we accept that our financial worlds are very much affected by solar activity. The Sun even affects our high-tech age. At 07.04 EST on May 13th, 1921 a solar magnetic storm was the cause of signal and switching system failure on the New York Central Railroad below 125th street. The same storm affected telephone, telegraph and cable traffic across Europe. Can you imagine the economic effect of the widespread disruption of communications?
Similarly, a Coronal Mass Ejection on March 9, 1989 brought about a severe geomagnetic storm bringing short wave radio interference (prompting some military experts to think that the Soviets were attacking). This solar eruption affected Earth a few days later, at 2:44 am on March 13, 1989 when Hydro-Quebec’s power grid was adversely affected. This led to a nine hour shut down – once again with major economic consequences. In August of that same year, another storm produced a halt to trading on the Toronto stock market when their microchips were similarly affected.
The source of earthy communication malfunction can be traced directly auroras – which are themselves after-effects of intense solar activity. Though as yet we have no way of predicting these events, we must acknowledge their power to bring economic chaos.
Solar scientists are able to alert us to increase activity and to give some warning of the potential for electrical fault within the few days following a sudden outburst of activity, but they cannot, as yet, tell us where the effects will be most greatly felt. Their astro-economic counterparts continue to make notes and to build up a picture of the links between solar activity and our financial – and creative – worlds.
Thoedor Landscheit in his remarkable work ‘Sun, Earth, Man’ suggested that solar flares increased creativity. It may be that these play an important role in flashes of inspiration or even mystical activity. A client who suggests they had a ‘bright idea’ and for which no planetary activity gives plausible explanation, may have been affected by a recent solar flare burst. You can check this out through www.spaceweather.com.
This is understanding through hindsight. Forecasting is another matter altogether. The simple fact is that we do not yet know enough.
We do know a little which can be put to practical use. Heading this list of cycle understanding is an approximately 190 year cycle.
You probably know that the Sun is actually not the centre of our solar system. The Sun and its system rotate in counter-clockwise motion around a central point known as the Barycentre. On seven occasions in the last four thousand years the combined position of the great planets Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune have created a pull that has resulted in the Sun rotating clockwise (retrograde) relative to the solar system Barycentre.
When Jupiter is at right angles to the Barycentre, as in 1632, between 1810 and 1812 and again through 1989 and 1990, we experienced a Sun retrograde period.
Meteorological studies show that the period post-solar-retrograde (lasting up to 30 years) brings disturbed weather patterns. These then result in shorter growing seasons and, inevitably, higher food costs.
As of 2010, we are still in one of these post-solar retrograde periods and evidence of disturbed weather patterns is all around. In the next decade it is probable that food prices will rise as a direct consequence of shortage of crops.
Understanding of this approximately 190 year cycle enabled astro-economists to suggest that from 1990 onward there might be mass migration of peoples across planet Earth as people sought better conditions under which they could sustain themselves. It was always likely that the period 1990-2020 would be a time of extraordinary social and subsequent political and economic upheaval.
A much shorter period is termed the ‘sunspot cycle’. Scientists track solar cycles by counting sunspots — cool planet-sized areas on the Sun where intense magnetic loops poke through the star’s visible surface.
Sunspots offer a fascinating field for economic study. In the 19th Century Professor Jevons studied tables for wheat, barley, oats, beans, peas and rye from 1259-1763 to show an 11.11 year sun spot cycle. (As interesting are the studies of Arthur Schuster who found that good wine years in Germany corresponded with years of minimum sun spots!).
Another study (Tchijevsky 1926) suggested that wars, revolutions and mass movements with their resulting political, social and economic consequences coincided with high levels of sun spot activity. Sunspots give off solar flares which in turn increase negative ionization on earth – which might explain increased excitability and activity during solar maxima. (Tchijevsky noted that particularly severe battles regularly followed a solar flare during the sunspot peak period of 1916-17.)
By contrast, David Williams’ studies in the 1950s showed that the US had been engaged in either war or experienced depression during alternate periods of low sunspot activity. These findings appear to contradict Tchijevsky. However, it might simply be that when sunspots are at either minima or maxima there is extreme behaviour on Earth.
The double cycle – approximately 22.2 years – covers the time when spots move downwards across the northern hemisphere of the sun, across its equator and then down toward the sun’s equivalent of the Tropic of Capricorn before starting off again in the Sun’s northern hemisphere.
Had the sunspot cycle been behaving ‘normally’, then a period of low sunspots would have been experienced in late 2007. During this particular cycle however there has been an exceptionally long solar minimum period. The ‘typical’ number of spotless (minima) days is 486 days. The minima period held for much longer than expected however and, since 2004, (and as of the time of writing) there have been 813 spotless days. 260 of these were in 2009 when we might have expected sunspot activity to be increasing. Spots are now occurring more frequently though it is hard to know exactly when maxima might now be reached.
Astro-economists have looked for correlation between the number of sunspots and stock market indices. The results are compelling. The next graph was prepared during the recent extended minima period and still shows an extended peak for 2014.
It is possible that this might not occur however.
The graph above was produced by Jan Alvestad who used data from the sunspot data index centre in Brussels. From this we see that the sun was still in a minima period in May 2009 and that the number is only now increasing (65 as of yesterday). The clear disturbance to the pattern makes forecast of the next maxima difficult to make. It is unlikely to be in 2011 as might have been expected but rather some years later. Indeed, it is possible that we are now witnessing disturbance not seen since earlier times of ‘solar discontent’ which have now been named the Dalton and Maunder minimums.
At the simplest of levels this suggests that there will continue to be serious disruption to weather patterns and, most likely, that growing periods will be substantially affected –leading to poor crops and food shortages: with considerable economic effect.
Put this together with the retrograde sun forecasts and it seems very likely indeed that the coming decade will be difficult and that food prices will soar.
As explained, it is not possible to forecast all solar activity. My clients do appreciate being reminded of its rhythms and of possible consequences in trading however. At a personal level, and of practical use is awareness of where we are in the sunspot cycle and whether sunspot numbers are close to those experienced at birth or are at a different stage in the cycle.
Recently I have been working with two elderly investors both of whom were born when sunspot activity was extremely low. In tracing their investment history we discovered that they had made their best decisions when the numbers were similarly low and their worst when the numbers were very high. Sunspot tables can be found in Neil Michelson’s excellent book, ‘Planetary Phenomena’ or through the nasa website.
Neil Michelson’s book also lists major magnetic storms. Allow a short orb for their influence. Another two investors were both born within 24hours of major storms – which seems to hint at their propensity to suddenly ‘seize on the moment’ and to take risks that others might consider foolhardy. Both are exceptionally good investors.
In preparing this article I discovered just how little I knew about our special star but that what I did understand compelled me to learn more about its activities. To me it is not enough to know where it was in zodiacal terms about its status: I have a thirst to know what kind of ‘mood’ it was and is in and how this correlates with economic activity. I suspect that this will be a never-ending quest.
Counting sunspots is not straightforward. Looking at the Sun through a pair of (properly filtered) low power binoculars – you might be able to see two or three large spots. Someone using a high-powered telescope might see 10 or 20. A powerful space-based observatory would see even more — say, 50 to 100. Which is the correct sunspot number?
There are two official sunspot numbers in common use. The first, the daily “Boulder Sunspot Number,” is computed by the NOAA Space Environment Center using a formula devised by Rudolph Wolf in 1848:
where R is the sunspot number; g is the number of sunspot groups on the solar disk; s is the total number of individual spots in all the groups; and k is a variable scaling factor (usually <1) that accounts for observing conditions and the type of telescope (binoculars, space telescopes, etc.). Scientists combine data from lots of observatories — each with its own k factor — to arrive at a daily value.
The Boulder number (reported daily on SpaceWeather.com) is usually about 25% higher than the second official index, the “International Sunspot Number,” published daily by the Solar Influences Data Center in Belgium. Both the Boulder and the International numbers are calculated from the same basic formula, but they incorporate data from different observatories.
As a rule of thumb, if you divide either of the official sunspot numbers by 15, you’ll get the approximate number of individual sunspots visible on the solar disk if you look at the Sun by projecting its image on a paper plate with a small telescope.
This list of websites is not comprehensive but offers a useful starting point