Solar cycle 23,ended in 2008, lasted longer than previous cycles, with a prolonged phase of low activity that scientists had difficulty explaining.
The new NCAR analysis suggests that one reason for the long cycle could be changes in the Sun's conveyor belt. Just as Earth's global ocean circulation transports water and heat around the planet, the Sun has a conveyor belt in which plasma flows along the surface toward the poles, sinks, and returns toward the equator, transporting magnetic flux along the way.
The key for explaining the long duration of cycle 23 with our dynamo model is the observation of an unusually long conveyor belt during this cycle," Dikpati says. "Conveyor belt theory indicates that shorter belts, such as observed in cycle 22, should be more common in the Sun."
Recent measurements gathered and analyzed by Ulrich and colleagues show that in solar cycle 23, the poleward flow extended all the way to the poles, while in previous solar cycles the flow turned back toward the equator at about 60 degrees latitude. Furthermore, as a result of mass conservation, the return flow was slower in cycle 23 than in previous cycles.
In their paper, Dikpati, Gilman, and de Toma used simulations to model how the solar plasma conveyor belt affected the solar cycle. The authors found that the longer conveyor belt and slower return flow could have caused the longer duration of cycle