This topic submitted by Brynnen Callahan, Lauren Collier,Claire Holland-Moritz, Liz Marconi, Shanna Shaw ( at 5:38 pm on 10/19/00. Additions were last made on Wednesday, May 7, 2014. Section: Cummins


    Sunspots are dark magnetic fields on the surface of the sun. Our project will explore the nature of sunspots and the possible affects they may have on the different aspects of our lives. We will attempt t 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 choice 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 were still a hot topic in the science world.

    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 maximum in the year 2000. Therefore we hypothesize that t he 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.



    "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.

    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.


    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 table 1. The second item of observation is the size of the sunspots, which will be measured using a micrometer. We will also be taking images with a digital camera and measuring the sizes from those images. The size is charted in Table 2. In Table 3, 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 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.

    With all this information being collected by scientist around the world and posted on sites; our will be able to produce well rounded data.. Also by consulting and observing with the other sunspot group our research will be fairly accurate.




SUNSPOT #SIZEUmbra/Penumbra(yes/no)


Link to noaa site on daily oberservations

link to daily observations

Link to classifications


    An observation will be done on the day of teaching the class about sunspots. In class we will do a short "Power Point" presentation on the background of sunspots. This will give the class a better understanding of what they will be observing and what we our trying to accomplish. After that the class will proceed outside with the telescope and do an observation. The students with our help will chart the sunspot data on the given charts. Then they will compare their results to our diagrams of the previous day and the day of observation. In comparison they will note the changes in shape, size. And movement of the sunspot.



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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