Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Herschel and Me (Sunspots and Wheat)

This story at Accu-weather reminded me of William Herschel:

Herschel Takes A Picture; Endeavour Tank


As you may know, the Herschel and Planck spacecraft were launched back in May. The first images captured by Herschel have come back to Earth, and as luck would have it, they are of one of my favorite Messier Objects; M51, the Whirlpool Galaxy, in constellation Canes Venatici. Herschel took the first images using its Photodetector Array Camera and Spectrometer (PACS) instrument. Charles Messier first observed the object around 1773 and it lies about 35 million light-years away; it was the first galaxy discovered with a spiral structure. The image was taken at 70, 100 and 160 microns after Herschel's cryocover (essentially its lens cap) was opened. Herschel is the first space-based observatory to cover the entire wavelength spectrum from the far Infrared to the sub-millimeter band (60-670 micrometers)....MORE
Okay, maybe you had to be there.
Last year, at the peak of the wheat market I wrote "Wheat Market Gone Wild and "Do We All Die in 2027?":
See important note.*
During a misspent youth one of my follies was following in William Herschel's footsteps.
First, this report on prices at the Minneapolis Grain Exchange for Hard Red Spring Wheat (the good stuff)....

...And Herschel? In 1801 he announced** he had spotted a correlation between sunspots and wheat prices. Here's a mention in the Edinburgh Philosophical Journal, 1823.

The question has been argued for 200 years and Herschel has, off and on, been the subject of ridicule***. Here's a headline from the New York Times in 1903:

SUN SPOTS NO PROPHETS; Science Destroys Theories That Disasters Follow Their Appearance. Interesting as Solar Curiosities with Possible Relation to Electrical Conditions of Earth....Source
Here's the cached version

A while later I came on the scene, couldn't figure out how to make money out of Herschel's idea and having the attention span of a gnat, moved on. So why bring it up? Since I first looked at the matter there's been a lot of research and it appears the correlation may not be as spurious as I thought. The wheat price series is one of the longest we have, it extends back to 1250, I've got a paper chart that starts in 1300 (although some of the prices are dubious).
The CBOT has a wheat chart that starts in 1477.

Google Scholar has 285 ref's to Herschel and wheat prices. Gregory Yom Din of the Israel Cosmic Ray Center, Tel Aviv University and Israel Space Agency, seems particularly interested, here, here, here, and note below.

*I am not saying current wheat prices are trading off the solar cycle. La Niña, the very low carry-over and corn planting in former wheat fields is enough to account for today's prices. But looking ahead....

We seem to be in an unusual solar cycle. The start of cycle 24 has been delayed longer than usual, so we're stuck at the quiet end of 23. From NASA:

Many forecasters believe Solar Cycle 24 will be big and intense. Peaking in 2011 or 2012

Here's NOAA's cycle 24 forecast; MUCH More interesting is NASA's cycle 25 forecast: "Solar Cycle 25 peaking around 2022 could be one of the weakest in centuries."

If there's anything to Herschel's idea and if NASA is right, we've got BIG problems.

If you want to track this stuff, here's Solarcycle 24.com "All of your Solar and Aurora needs in one place"...
And here's Sunspot Baby: