Sunspots

This topic submitted by Shanna Shaw, Liz Marconi, Brynnen Callahan, Lauren Collier, Claire Holland-Moritz at 11:24 pm on 9/28/00. Additions were last made on Wednesday, May 7, 2014. Section: Cummins

Abstract:

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


Introduction:

The purpose of this research project is to learn about sunspots by observing the size, number, and characteristics and how they correlate with other phenomenon such as solar storms and the earth's climate. Research shows that the sunspot cycle is at its maxiumum in the year 2000. Therefore, we hypothesize that the size of the sunspots will increase as they gravitate towards the equator, and will tend to be found in small groups. As the groups change, the unique personalities of the sunspots will also change. The observations taken will be directly compared to the solar storm activity on earth.


Relevance:

"The Sun is responsible for our existence and it is therefore no wonder that many ancient civilizations worshipped the Sun as a god" (Tayler 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 reions 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 ARs 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 solar flares. Flares (Coronal Mass Ejections) are abrupt releases of energy in unltraviolet 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 occure 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 days.
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 observation 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 was the fact that there were no northern lights during this period and three solar eclipses consistent with 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 (Wentzel 10, 222-23). Other correlations between the sunspot cycle and earthly phenomena are speculated about, but are 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 in sociological phenomenon such as the length of women's skirts" (Wentsel 7).
Sunspots have been researched for many centuries dating back to the first study by Galileo. He disproved his colleague Scheiner who theorized sunspots were either a flaw in his telescope or small plantes revolving around the sun. 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).
Although the sun is presently found on the main sequence of the Hertzspring-Russell diagram, it is predicted this star will one day become the compact dead star known as a white dwarf.


Materials and Methods:

The sun will be observed three to four times a week (weather permitting) using the Celestron 11-inch teslsecope with a filter. The first item of observation will be the number of sunspots located on the sun. This information will be posted in Table 1. The second item of observation is the size of the sunspots, which will be measured using a micrometer, and then charted on Table 2. At this time, the umbra and penumbra will be noted if visible. The third item of observation will be the location of sunspots. This data will be collected on a diagram (Table 3) of the sun divided into quadrants.
At the time of experimentation, we will be receiving information daily from an astronomical study center, providing the data on solar activity, including sunspots, solar flares, solar storms, and other disturbances. Comparing said data to the data we collect will give us a more credible analysis of our study.

Class Participation
An observation will be done the day prior to teaching the class about sunspots. In class we will do a short "Power Point" presentation on the background of sunspots to give students an understanding of what they will be observing. We will the proceed outside with the telescope and do an observation. We will do the measurement with the micrometer and the students will chart the sunspots on the given diagram. This diagram will then be compared to our diagram of the previous day. In comparison they will note the changes in shape, size, and movement of the sunspots.


Questions

How does the number and size of sunspots affect the earth's weather?

How do sunspots affect solar storms?


Works Cited:

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.

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

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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