Well for those of you are into solar viewing and imaging it seems that the sun has commenced its new cycle. On the 11 December a spot on the eastern limb appeared at a very high latitude At that stage it only appeared in Ha and Cak scopes. It was an active region with no decernible spot. Two days ago it appeared on the magnetograms as being the reverse polarity to the existing cycle spots for the northern hemisphere. It is still there today and seems to be gaining strength. It is a sure sign that the cycle 24 is underway at last and we now look forward to around 12-18 months before solar minimum. Minimum was predicted for March next year but this seems unlikely given spots appearing now.
For those that don't know, there is an overlap of the old and new cycles before solar minimum arrives. During the next 12 months we can expect to see the occassional spot located near the solar equator (these are from the old cycle) and an ever increasing number of spots appearing at high latitudes (either north or south at around 30 degrees. Once minimum passes then the sun will ramp up its activity quite sharply and head toward solar Maximum. This cycles is expected to be rather strong (although some of the scientists are predicting otherwise) and due to peak somewhere around 2012-2013. Initially it was supposed to peak in 2011, but given the long duration of this long quiet period the prediction was extended.
At present there is one large spot near the solar equator (AR978) and now the new spot in the northern hemisphere near the eastern limb. The larger spot can be seen in white light but the smaller is not visible yet in white light.
I strongly encourage anyone who is interested is solar viewing to take a look when they can (with the appropriate solar protection) at AR978. It is a real beauty and worth looking at.