Sun Spots are large transient patches on the photosphere of the sun which appear black in contrast with the
surrounding regionsî (Nicholson 89). Sunspots are
created by convection. Magnetic fields on the solar surface have a strong effect on the path of solar gases. Large
fields of strength resist the motion of this matter. This makes it very hard to move the solar gases across the
direction of the field in sunspots. It is then concluded that the magnetic fields of sunspots that extend far inside the
sun, stop the motion of solar gases, and also stop the boiling of convection, thus "freezing" the solar gases in place.
This reduces the heat that is brought to the surface at sunspots. This then, explains why sunspots are "cooler" and
"darker" than the rest of the sun (Noyes 83-98).
The first sunspot recorded was spotted by Aristotleís pupil, Theophrastus, around 370-290 B.C. (Sonett 3).
Scheiner and Galileo continued to research the peculiar ìblemishesî on the sun. Scheiner argued that the sunspots
were bodies orbiting the sun and Galileo argued that sunspots represented properties of clouds that were carried
with the rotation of the sun (Sonett 6). Four statements became accepted: ì1) the spots are on the sun; 2) a given
spot moves across the surface of the Sun with a 29 day period; 3) there is an annual (seasonal) variation in the tilt of
the path of the spots across the face of the sun; 4) there is no obvious diurnal variation in the spotsî (Sonett 9).
Sunspots contain 2 regions: a darker central region, the ìumbra,î and the lighter region, the ìpenumbraî, which
surrounds the umbra. The penumbra consists of patterns of lighter and darker filaments. These patterns of filaments
spread out in a radial pattern from the umbra (Nicolson 36). Sunspots can be as small as a grain of sand or as large
as the earthís mass times seven. Sunspots mostly appear in pairs or groups. The leading spot of a pair, in terms of
the direction of solar rotation, is referred to as the ìproceedingî or p-spot, while the other is known as the ìfollowingî
or f-spot. All the sunspots in one of the bipolar groups have the same magnetic polarity. All of the other sunspots
have the opposite polarity. The sunspot groups are divided on the basis of their magnetic properties into three
principle classes, as follows: unipolar groups- single spots, or groups of spots having the same magnetic polarity;
bipolar groups, in which the p- and f-spots are of opposite magnetic polarity; complex groups in which many spots
of each magnetic polarity are jumbled together (Nicolson 37-39). A neutral line separates the opposing groups of
E. Walter Maunder documented a time, known as the Maunder Minimum, between 1645 and 1715 when sunspots
virtually disappeared. In 1733, Jean Jackues DíOrtons de Mairan was ridiculed for relating the decrease in the
auroras to the lack of sunspots during this time period. Now, the Maunder Minimum is believed to have caused a
ìLittle Ice Agei here on earth, with temperatures dropping as low as 1.0 degrees Celsius in Northern Europe. It is
now considered fact that the
periods of low solar activity closely relate to the cooling of the climate on earth. (Lang 250-251)
*We hypothesize that sunspots create solar disturbances. We predict that the size, frequency, shape, and
personality of the sunspots directly correlate with the frequency and magnitude of solar disturbances. These solar
disturbances include Northern Lights, radio communication disturbances, and atmospheric disturbances.
Specifically, we predict the fewer sunspots, the less Auroras (Northern Lights) present. Also, the larger and more
frequent sunspots appear, we think the slower the solar wind will travel due to the magnetic fields.
From Space Weather Now
* Our interest in space provoked us to perform this project. We want to gain a better understanding of the
relationship between the earth and sun.
* Through this lab we plan to accomplish:
a) A well-defined relationship between sunspots and solar disturbances.
b) To gain a better understanding of NASA's reasons for performing experiments and how it relates to us.
c) To learn how to use scientific equipment and generate a quality lab study that will be beneficiary for others and
* The purpose of this lab is to prove our hypothesis true or false while simultaneously learning about the sun-earth
relationship. We also hope to become aware of concepts and methods of the natural sciences.
* We plan to determine if sunspots affect the solar system and if it causes or influences solar disturbances.
* We find this topic is interesting because we experience the effects of solar disturbances everyday. We want to
learn more about why and how occurrences in
space or on the sun affect us on earth.
* Our research will relate to the larger questions- If sunspots create solar disturbances, what causes the sunspots?
And, if sunspots create solar disturbances on earth, does the sun create similar disturbances on other planets or in
*We hope to contribute relevant data that will inform humans of the importance of the sun and its dramatic effects.
We plan to make sense of the origin of sunspots and their effects on earth.
Materials and Methods:
*Our experimental design proposes that we will a) locate sunspots through the use of telescopes and sun screens,
b) measure their size and frequency as they
appear, and c) relate their magnitudes to that of solar disturbances on earth. It will be statistically sound for the
period of time that the observations cover. NASA will aid in the accuracy of our results. We will be checking their
website daily to see if our results correlate with theirs. It would not benefit our lab enough to base all of our
observations off local weather and sunspots that we find. If we allow NASA to aid in our collection and analysis of
data, our results will be much more generalized and accurate. We will be measuring the sunspots and counting their
frequency to see if their changes coincide with that of solar disturbances and to see if there is any connection
between the two. Because we do not have the machinery and equipment to gather more detailed information, we
will rely on NASA to provide specifics that we could not generate.
*Our experiment is statistically sound. We know it is statistically sounds because we will be using telescopes and
micrometers to measure the size and characteristics of each sunspot. We will also be using NASAís data, which is a
reliable source. All of our results will be recorded as they are developed so as to ensure that nothing is forgotten or
left out. We will ensure unbiased results by keeping a detailed log of what we observe and of NASAís observations
as well. We will ensure that the data collected by the class can be trusted because we will witness their actions as
they collect data during our class presentation. Since we will have already determined the correct procedures in
observing the sun, we will be able to teach the class how to collect data correctly and without a bias. We will teach
the class the importance of taking precise records and will demonstrate our own techniques with our journal and
calculated histograms that our group has kept for each observation. The journal consists of a daily record of the
observations made through the telescope and sunscreen. It will include the characteristics of the sunspots and their
daily changes. We will include printouts from the NASA website and will then contrast our own observations with
*The materials that we use will play a vital role in proving our hypothesis true or false. In the year 1611, Johann
Goldshchmid used a telescope to see sunspots,
however, discontinued his research when he concluded that the spots proved that the sun rotates (Sonett, 4). We
will be using telescopes provided by the Miami
University Western College Science Program along with sunscreens. The telescope will allow us to observe the sun
in a more precise way than possible with the
naked eye. The sunscreens will allow us to look straight at the sun with our naked eye and determine if sunspots are
present. We would not be able to look at the sun without this device because the rays would blind us. We will also
be using the Internet frequently to compare our data with NASAís visuals and in-depth studies. Without the Internet
our data would be very regional because we would not be able to determine worldwide solar disturbances
correlation with sunspots.
*Our method of observation will be as follows:
Three times a week a pair of students will take the telescopes and sunscreens borrowed form the science lab and
observe the sun. They will record size and
frequency of the sunspots as they occur. The procedure to record the size of sunspots is as follows. We will take
digital pictures of the sun, and then we will download these onto the computer. We will then print these images out.
From these images, we will measure the sun as a whole and the individual sunspots. We will set up a ratio of the
diameter of the print out sun with the actual diameter of the sun in ratio to the diameter of the printout sunpots to the
unknown of the actual diameter of the sunspots. By this ratio, we will be able to determine the actual size of the
sunspots we observe. Sunspot personality will be determined qualitatively,through description of the individual
sunspots. They will compare the daily results of the sunspots with previous results and also with data provided by
NASA. NASA observes the sun constantly, thus, we will be able to compare our results each day we take
observations with the daily reports reported by NASA.
On the day of teaching, we will demonstrate how to observe the sun by using the telescope in the Science Center.
After this, students will be assigned to a date on which they will complete an observation of the sunspot activity.
These dates on which the students will observe the sun will be decided upon on the day of class. This is because we
want to give everyone the chance to observe the sunspots, thus we must accomodate conflicting schedules. This is
why we have no concrete student observation schedule at this time. We do know, however, that they will be
observing with us. Therefore, the students will be observing on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays. The students
will then complete the procedure by visiting NASA's website and recording their observations in the specified log.
The students will be asked to compare their observations with NASA's site which is as follows:
Students can also visit www.sunspotcycle.com/ to view the number of sunspots occurring on the sun per day and
also the sun cycle in which we are currently observing.
Some of the questions we will ask our fellow students to answer are as follows:
a. What do you see in the sunspots?
b. How big do you think a sunspot is?
c. What do you think the biggest one is?
d. How big is the sun in comparison to the sunspot? (hint: use a ratio)
e. Where are the sunspots located on the sun?
f. What is a solar disturbance? Name some solar disturbances.
We will comment on changes in size or growth in numbers and how they intertwine with the solar disturbances. We
will begin our observations on October 18th and will continue for five to seven consecutive weeks. We will be able
to compare all of our observations over the experiment and develop conclusions.
We are currently approaching a sunspot maximum in January 2001
Here is the schedule of daily observations as follows:
Monday= No observations
Tuesday= Chelsea and Sarah
Wednesday= No observations
Thursday= Erin and Lauren
Friday= No observations
Saturday= No observations
Sunday= Amanda and Dan
On these days the pairs will be recording their observations in our journal. We will also colsely monitor sun data
from a variety of government sources including the
amazing NOAA's on-line sun data resource page. This is an amazing resouce that will be tied into our own
--Their Anonymous FTP server for a wide variety of archived data and forecasts
--Space Weather Advisories
--And So Much More!
The schedule for our research project is as follows:
October 2: introduction to equipment.
October 17-November 28: collect data*
October 5, 7, 8, 13: library research; work on lab packet
October 18: finish lab packet
October 20: turn in lab packets
November 7: have class begin to observe sun activity
November 20: collect last data; begin to analyze data
November 16, 18, 26, 30: analyze data and finish lab report
December 1, 2, 3: revise and post final lab report
December 5: Turn in final lab report (hard copy)
*Our schedule for observing sun activity and comparing the
activity to the data on the NASA web site is as follows:
October 17, 24, 31, November 7, 14, 21: Chelsea and
Sarah observe sun activity and look on the NASA web site for solar
October 19, 26; November 2, 9, 16, 23: Lauren and Erin
observe sun activity and look on the NASA web site for solar disturbances.
October 22, 29; November 5, 12, 19, 28: Dan and Amanda
observe sun activity and look on the NASA web site for solar
We will involve the class in our experiment on the day that we are allowed to teach by actually having them observe
the sun and then record it in the class journal.
We teach them what the data they will be collecting means. We will help them measure the size of sunspots and then
explain to them the correlation between the
sunspots they observed and the solar disturbances, which are present at that time. We will have our own data
sheets that we fill out after our observations and will
keep them in the journal. We will give the students a data sheet, just like ours, to fill out and will compile their
results. Together we will come to a conclusion about
the dayís observations.
Our data sheet will be set up as follows:
_______ date of observation (make a table like this for each day)
_______ number of sunspots total for the given date
sunspot size |
sunspot personality |
clumping (yes/no) |
sunspot location |
sunspot color |
We will create a table for each sunspot that we encounter, each day that we observe the sun.
The following are links to all of our data, including spreadsheets and graphs.
To view the spreadsheet regarding sunspot characteristics and date they were observed, Sunspot Table
To view the spreadsheet regarding daily solar disturbances, Sunspot Weather Connections
To view the spreadsheet regarding day vs disturbances, Storm Data
This graph illustrates color vs size
This graph illustrates color by size by quad
This graph illustrates month vs the number of spots
This graph illustrates size vs the quad
This graph illustrates day vs sunspots
Discussion and Conclusion:
After collecting extensive information on the history of the sun and the sunspots that inhibit it, we discovered that sunspots might have a direct effect on our own earth. As a result of this data we hypothesized that there is a direct relationship between sunspots and their effects on solar disturbances. We set out to prove that the size, frequency, and shape of sunspots directly correlate with the frequency and magnitude of solar disturbances. Dating all the way back to 1733, scientists have attempted to find a relationship between the sunspots and solar disturbances. One scientist in particular, Jean Jackues DiOrtons de Marian, was ridiculed for relating the decrease in the auroras to the lack of sunspots during this time period. This claim clearly was ahead of his time.
To prove our hypothesis we set out to collect data that would show a relationship between sunspots and solar disturbances. We chose to use the help of NASA's researchers to make sure our data was reliable and accurate. We used a telescope provided by the science center, and recorded our observations of daily sunspots. We then compared our observations to NASA's observations. Some days there were distinct differences but overall there were similarities between our records and theirs. When we recorded data we counted the number of spots, their location, their size and color value, and their characteristics. Later on, we were able to compare the data we gathered regarding solar disturbances to the data we had compiled regarding sunspots through NASA and our own efforts.
According to the data we collected over a two-month period, we were able to arrive at these conclusions: (note, this does not necessarily pertain to the entire year, nor the entire history of the sun)
A. There is no significant difference between the frequencies of sunspots per month.
(see graph a)
B. There is no significant difference between the color and size of the sunspots.
(see graph b)
C. There is no direct correlation between the location of the sunspots and their size and color.
(see graph c)
D. There is no direct correlation between the frequencies of sunspots and the severity of Radio Blackouts.
(see graph d)
E. There IS a direct correlation between the frequencies of sunspots and the severity of Geomagnetic storms.
(see graph e)
F. There is no direct correlation between the frequencies of sunspots and the severity of Solar Radiation storms.
(see graph f)
So, after analyzing the data collected, we conclude that our hypothesis was proven to be correct. From our data we can reasonably state that there is a direct relationship between the frequency of sunspots and the severity of Geomagnetic storms. This makes sense because- Sunspots are created by convection. Magnetic fields on the solar surface have a strong effect on the path of solar gases. Large fields of strength resist the motion of this matter. This makes it very hard to move the solar gases across the direction of the field in sunspots. It is then concluded that the magnetic fields of sunspots that extend far inside the sun, stop the motion of solar gases, and also stop the boiling of convection, thus "freezing" the solar gases in place. This reduces the heat that is brought to the surface at sunspots. This then, explains why sunspots are "cooler" and "darker" than the rest of the sun (Noyes 83-98). Thus, there is a direct correlation between Geomagnetic storms and the frequencies of sunspots.
There is not, however, any correlation between the frequency of sunspots and the severity of Radio Blackouts and Solar Radiation Storms. Although there did appear to be some patterns, we conclude that there is not a correlation between the size, color, and location of sunspots. For example, the color did appear to be darker as the sunspots grew larger, but not often enough to be considered a direct correlation.
If we had the opportunity to continue this research we would extend the period of time that it spanned to a full year and take the measurements of the sunspots every other day to make our data more solid. We would then extend our focus to the specific time periods that sunspots have been suspected of causing. We would hope to learn if there were any other solar disturbances that the sunspots had a direct correlation with. (The time constraints and materials we had did not allow for this before). And finally, we would like to know if sunspots have any other direct effects to us on earth or other planets in our solar system.
Having completed our student-generated lab, the next time that we tested our hypothesis on sunspots, we would organize how were to execute the project differently. Because we would be aware of all the resources we could tap (such as websites and databases that we became more familiar with as our project progressed,) we feel that we would be able to establish a more complete database that was more extensive and specified. This would allow us to answer some of the more specific questions that we now propose.
We feel that this project was a success even though not every area of our hypothesis was proven. We enjoyed learning about the sun and the relationship that sunspots hold with our earth. All of us agree that we learned more from this project than we could have possibly anticipated.
Alurkar, S. K. Solar and Interplanetary Disturbances. River Edge, New
Jersey: World Scientific Publishing, 1996.
Lang, Kenneth R. Sun, Earth and Sky. Medford, Maine: Springer, 1995.
Nicholson, Iain. The Sun. New York: Rand McNally and Company, 1982.
Noyes, Robert W. The Sun, Our Star. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard
University Press, 1982.
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