Hot Spots, Cool Spots, Why Not Sunspots

This topic submitted by Brynnen Callahan, Lauren Collier, Claire Holland-Moritz, Liz Marconi, Shanna Shaw ( at 8:06 am on 12/6/00. Additions were last made on Wednesday, May 7, 2014. Section: Cummins


Sunspots are dark magnetic fields on the surface of the sun. Our project explored the nature of sunspots and the possible affects they may have on the different aspects of our lives. We attempted to derive an understanding of the raging inferno that is the source of all life, commonly called the sun.


We decided that we wanted to further our knowledge in the use of telescopes. Our initial idea was to study the moons of Jupiter.
However, Jupiter was only visible in the early morning, which would disturb our sleep and hinder our ability to take good data. Therefore we choose to study the sun which would allow us to still use the telescope in our research project.

We were unsure about the options we had in topics involving the sun. Therefore we decided to consult someone more knowledgeable in this area, Hays Cummins. He enlightened us with the idea of sunspots. From this point we went to the science library and researched the topic. From the research found we saw that sunspots are still a hot topic in the science world.

The purpose of this research project is to learn about sunspots by observing the movement, number, and characteristics and how they correlate with other phenomenon such as solar storms, with the KP index data. Research shows that the sunspot cycle is at its maximum in the year 2000. Therefore we hypothesize that as the groups change, the unique personalities of the sunspots will also change. The observations taken will be directly compared to the solar storm or KP index on Earth. We believe the higher the number of spots the higher the KP index.


  • How do sunspots effect solar storms?
  • Do these solar storms effect satellite communications?
  • Is there a direct correlation with the average KP Index number and a large number of sunspots?
  • Do sunspots occur more frequently in any particular quadrant?

    "The Sun is responsible for our existence and it is therefore no wonder that many ancient civilizations worshiped the Sun as a god" (Taylor 1). Heated by steady nuclear reactions, the sun is a hot-sphere of gas held together by its own self gravitation. The most prevalent gases found in the sun are hydrogen, helium, oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen. These reactions between these chemicals cause four protons or hydrogen nuclei to fuse together to form one alpha particle or helium nucleus.

    There are various layers of the sun., the outermost of which are the solar winds and the solar corona. Within these outer layers lie the chromosphere, photosphere, the interior, and finally the core. Active
    regions are located within the photosphere and chromosphere. "An AR [Active Region] is a combination of plasma and magnetic field that is constantly undergoing structural change" (Cox 845). These AR's consist of a variety of features including sunspots, solar flares, and coronal arches; these "epiphenomena" respond to the emergence of magnetic tubes of force. The rearrangements of the intense forces are related to the occurrence of coronal loops. Coronal Mass Ejections are abrupt releases of energy in ultraviolet light, x-radiation, and gamma radiation. Solar storms are the earth magnetic field's responses to the passage of CMEs (Coronal Mass Ejections). These storms occur when the earth's magnetic field is highly disturbed. In the disturbance, radiation environments intensify, auroras are produced, and electrical currents are enhanced in the earth's ionosphere. These storms last several hours to several.

    "The KP index scale has a range from 0 to 9 and is directly related to the maximum about of fluctuation (relative to a quiet day)
    in the geomagnetic field over a three hour interval. The KP index is measured by an instrument called magnetometer" (

    The KP Index chart:

    K<4 Quiet - The geomagnetic field is quiet(KP<4)

    K=4 Unsettled - The geomagnetic field is unsettled (KP =4)

    K>4 Storm - A geomagnetic storm has occurred (KP>4)


    Sunspots are dark magnetic fields on the surface of the sun. The magnetic field's strength is thousands of times stronger than the earth's. The sunspot magnetic field is produced by the flow of electronically charged ions and electrons. Sunspots are where intense magnetic lines of force break through the sun's surface. Because the strength of the magnetic field energy is suppressed, it is without replenishing energy. Therefore, the spots cool and appear darker than the surrounding area. The darkest part of the sunspot is the umbra, and this is where the field is the strongest. Surrounding the umbra is the penumbra. The field in the penumbra is much weaker. Sunspots are commonly found in groups of two. One set will have positive or north magnetic field, while the other has a negative or south field. They move in unison across the face of the sun.

    Sunspot numbers are measured in solar cycles. Heinrich Schwabe discovered that sunspot activity fluctuates in a cycle between 9.5 and 12 years. Periods of large sunspot numbers are called solar maxima, while periods of low sunspot observations are solar minima. The minimum was noticed by Maunder in the years 1645-1715. During this time period, there was no recorded solar activity. An interesting, but ignored correlation proposed by Maunder. He discovered that a lack of northern lights along with three solar eclipses was consistent with characteristics of low activity. As also noted by John Eddy, this was also a period of unusually cold weather. Whether this was a result of the minimum is still a topic of debate. A way to measure the cycle of maxima and minima is by monitoring the amounts of Carbon 14. In a maximum period, the amount of Carbon 14 is less than that present during minimum periods (Wentsel 10, 222-23). Other correlations
    between the sunspots cycle and earthy phenomena are speculated about, but in the past have been difficult to prove. "Today the sunspot cycle
    is not only well known but is also popularly associated with the cycles
    and climate, and even cycles of sociological phenomenon such as the length of women's skirts" (Wentsel 7).

    Sunspots have been researched for many centuries dating back to the first studies of Galileo, Scheiner, and Fabricus. All three of them were discover and observing sunspots independently. Galileo discovered
    that they were actually features of the sun itself , that changed size
    and shape. "He inferred from the sun's rotation period (four weeks), and
    showed that sunspots occurred in groups and in two bands above and below the sun's equator" (Frazier 6). From 1714-1786 A. Wilson discovered that sunspots were depressions on the sun's photosphere. He estimated that the average depth of the photosphere was about 700 km or 450 miles (Mitton pg 119). Later in 1816-1893 Wolf confirmed Schwabe's sunspot cycle. He also came up with his "Wolf Sunspot Number" by using an equation. Each group of spots is worth ten points and each spot receives one point. The total number is the Wolf Sunspot Number. The modern equation to determine the sunspot number is: R-equals- k(f+10g). R is the total sunspot number, where f is the total number of spots observed, g is the number of disturbed regions (single spots or groups), and k is a constant for the observatory relating to the sensitivity of their equipment.


    Our Original Plan of Attack:

    The sun will be observed three to four times a week (weather permitting) using the Celestron 11-inch telescope with a sun-filter. The first item of observation will be the number of sunspots located on the sun. This information will be posted in Figure I. We will also be taking images with a digital camera and measuring the sizes from those images. The size is charted in Figure II. In Figure III, we will be sketching the shape and location of the sunspots, so we can determine the movement of the sunspots over time.

    We would like to ensure that our data is as unbiased as possible. In lieu of this we will be receiving information daily from
    astronomical study centers, providing data on solar activity, including
    sunspots, solar flares, and other disturbances. The scientists that are
    observing the sun use a lot of different high-tech instruments and techniques. Other than just observing, counting, and plotting the number and location of sunspots. That is all of our available equipment will allow us to do. SOHO is a collection of images and data of the sun from space crafts and telescopes around the world.

    Some SOHO Data collected is:

    MDI Intensitygram- this shows the brightness of the sun's visible light. This light is produced in the photosphere, where sunspots are located.

    MDI Magnetogram- shows the magnetic field strength on the sun's surface. Dark indicated south (Negative) magnetic fields and white is north (positive) magnetic field.

    TRACE- ultraviolet images from this space craft. It observes in many of the same wavelengths as SOHO.

    Dopplergram- is an image shown by measuring the motion of the sun's surface with Doppler effect.

    We also go to and see whether there were any geomagnetic storms, solar radiation, radio black outs. This helps us in our understanding of the effects solar flares have. With all this information being collected by scientist around the world and posted on sites; we will be able to produce well rounded data. Also by consulting and observing with the other sunspot group our research will be fairly accurate.


    Table 1



    Table 2

    SUNSPOT # SIZE Umbra/Penumbra(yes/no)


    Table 3

    Link to noaa site on daily oberservations

    link to daily observations

    Link to classifications

    Actual Plan of Attack:

    Some sites we used:

    Soho site(daily pictures of sun)

    KP index

    From September 18th through November 29th we recorded we recorded the daily sunspots status using the SOHO Daily Image Site listed above. We constructed a grid that would overlap the image, allowing us to analyze the sunspots. The grid marked off four quadrants (NW, NE, SW, SE). We characterized and counted the number of spots in each quadrant. We came up with a classification system to help organize our growing data. We classified a large group of multiple penumbra as a groupie. A spot with one noticeable penumbra became classified as sunny side up, while scrambled was the classification used for spots with no noticeable penumbra. We used data from the other site listed to record the KP index or geomagnetic disturbances. The KP index was recorded every three hours each day on this site. We took the average number of sunspots for each day and compared it to the average KP index number. Our final method of testing involved the sunspot movement. We produced a Quicktime movie combining all the
    images from SOHO ranging from Sept. 18th to Nov. 29th. This was the best way to visually see the movement of sunspots across the sun's surface, keeping in mind that the sun rotates in the same direction of the sunspot path.

    An observation was done on the day of teaching the class about sunspots. In class we did a short "Power Point" presentation on the background of sunspots. This hopefully gave the class a better understanding of what they would be observing and what we were trying to accomplish. After that the class proceeded outside with the telescope and did an observation. The students, with our assistance, successfully recorded the sunspot data on the given charts. Then they were assigned to go onto the sites that we checked each day and record the information there. They were to hand these into us at the next class period. Although we did not receive any of the assignments back, we luckily did our own observations and recordings for that day.

    Spread sheet 1

    Spread sheet 2











    All the sun Images from september 18 through November 29 off of Nasa's site

    Sun Spots 10/26/00

    Claire Observing Sun Spots and Setting up the telescope on 10/31/00


    Sun Spots on 11/5/00

    Check out our Movie



    Upon reviewing our data, we have derived firsthand knowledge on the personality and movement of sunspots and the effect they have on geomagnetic activity. Charts one through eight of our results illustrate our data found involving the location and personality of sunspots. Chart number nine proves our hypothesis that there is a correlation between the KP-index and the total daily number of sunspots.

    In charts one through three we analyzed the data involving the number of spots in each quadrant and also in correlation with the week by the mean number of sunspots recorded. Chart number one, which compared the mean number of sunspots recorded within each quadrant. This chart showed that there is no significant difference between the mean number of sunspots between the four quadrants. Chart number two compared the mean number of spots recorded with each of the eleven weeks of data recorded. We found a significant difference between the mean number of sunspots for each week. Chart number three is a compilation of charts number one and two, which allows us to split up the data and show the variation of each quadrant by week.

    Data for charts one through eight was recorded by counting and classifying the sunspots in each quadrant and using our own classification system, illustrated in spreadsheet one of our results. Data for charts eight and nine were derived from data precalculated by our internet sources, illustrated in spreadsheet two.

    Charts four through six show our data relating to the personality of sunspots. In chart number four we compared the number of spots to the personality. This chart illustrated that there are more scrambled than sunny-side up, and groupies appeared the least. Chart number five shows the number of spots as compared to the three personality types, but is also divided into quadrants. Chart number six shows the significant differences between the personality per week for the mean number of sunspots.

    Chart number seven represents the number of spots recorded by our source website by each of the eleven weeks recorded. Chart number eight represents the weekly KP-Index average.

    In the process of analyzing our data in the statistic program, we noticed as correlation between the number of sunspots and geomagnetic activity. The pattern found showed that the day following a day with a large amount of sunspots had a higher number on the KP-Index which indicates a more geomagnetic activity. This is illustrated in chart number nine of our results.

    In our QuickTime movie including all 72 days of observation, we attempted to show the movement of sunspots. Since the sun is moving, most of the left to right movement seen in the movie is the rotation of the sun. However, the movie does show that the sunspots move towards and then away from the equator.

    As an overall analysis of our semester project we conclude that we were successful in our attempt to learn and expand our knowledge of not only sunspots, but also the telescope, statview, html posting, and group work. Our project could have been improved by having more data. To achieve this, we would have needed a much more powerful telescope to help zoom in and more accurately count the number of sunspots in each quadrant. This would have enabled us to analyze and utilize the data collected. As in most scientific experiments there is a margin of error. Our first instance of error is in our counting of the number of sunspots in each quadrant. We feel that overall an experimental design was efficient in providing useful statistical data.


    Cox, A.N.; Livingston, W.C. and Matthews, M.S. Solar Interior and Atmosphere. University of Arizona Press, 1991.

    Frazier, Kendrick. Our Turbulent Sun. Prentice Hall Inc.,
    New Jersey: 1979.

    The Many Faces of the Sun: A Summary of the Results from NASA's Solar Maximum Mission. Eds. Barnhard Haisch, Julia Sava, Joan Schmelz and Keith Strong. Springer, New York: 1999.

    Mitton, Simon. Daytime Star: The Story of our Sun. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York: 1981.

    Moore, Patrick. The Sun. W. W. Norton & Co., Inc., New
    York: 1968.

    Schrijver C.J. and Zwaan, C. Solar and Stellar Magnetic
    Activity. Cambridge University Press, 2000.

    Tayler, Roger J. The Sun as a Star. Cambridge University Press, 1997.

    Wentzel, Donat G. The Restless Sun. Smithsonian Institution Press,Washington D.C.: 1989.

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