Exploring Sunspots 2.0

by Alyssa Hui

In my previous blog post, I have discussed the basics of what sunspots are, what they look like, how they are formed, etc. For Exploring Sunspots 2.0, I will be discussing a Citizen Science Project conducted by the Sunspotter team.

Have you ever wondered why scientists study sunspots? And do sunspots affect the way we live on Earth? Scientists have been studying the Sun and sunspots for quite some time. With the research and understanding about the Sun, scientists can predict how it would affect our life on Earth, especially our weather patterns. Even though the Sun is 93 million miles away from the Earth, scientists have discovered that sunspots can erupt which causes high-energy particles that put astronauts and space stations in danger. This can interrupt GPS signals and expose aircrafts to radiation. Once we understand sunspots, we are better prepared to deal with the changes that could occur in our environment because of them.

One thing scientists do know about sunspots is that they occur in cycles. The amount of sunspots seen on the surface (photosphere) of the sun change from year to year. By tracking sunspots activity overtime we know that the cycle is about eleven years. Here is a graph showing the 11 year cycle and how many Sunspots have been discovered on the Sun per year. In 2009, we can see that the sunspots appearing on the Sun have decreased dramatically, but as of this year (2014) the amount of sunspots detected has reached its peak for the cycle.


Citation: NOAA. ISES Solar Cycle Sunspot Number Progression. Digital image. Solar Cycle Progression. Space Weather Prediction Center, 8 May 2009. Web. 11 July 2014. <http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/SolarCycle/>.


In Sunspotters, scientists are using this data from the “Michelson Doppler Imager” (MDI) instrument, which is on the “Solar and Heliospheric Observatory” (SOHO) to study sunspots over a full solar cycle. SOHO orbits the Sun between the Sun and the Earth so it is without any interrupted views of the Sun from the Earth or moon. The MDI took data for 16 years and about 60,000 images were transferred from SOHO to Earth, unfortunately the MDI was shut down in 2011 .

In Sunspotters, users are determining how complex sunspots appear to be, and the complexity deals with polarity. Magnetics have a north and south pole. Sunspots have north and south poles too, but instead they are called north and south polarities. In images of sunspots, that are on the Sunspotters website, the north polarity is shown as a white color and the south polarity is a black color.


Citation of First image: Image of Sunspot. Digital image. Number of Sunspots Effect Earth’s Temperature? N.p., 24 Mar. 2010. Web. 11 July 2014. <http://peakfood.co.uk/2010/03/number-of-sunspots-effect-earths-temperature/>.Citation of Second image: Russell, Randy. Digital image. Sunspots and Magnetic Fields. Windows to the Universe, 19 Jan. 2010. Web. 11 July 2014. <http://www.windows2universe.org/sun/atmosphere/sunspot_magnetism.html>.


Sunspot groups can range broadly in complexity/polarity. Images of these sunspot groups are classified from Alpha to Gamma by experts at observatories around the world. To clarify, alpha sunspots are single spots with just one polarity (North/South). Beta sunspots are a pair of spots of opposite polarity. Gamma sunspots are complex groups with uneven distribution of polarities; where they can not be classified as a bipolar sunspot group. Scientists use the Sunspotters experiment to come up with a theory of how sunspots change over time. In addition, Scientists use this experiment to quantify sunspot group complexities.



This image is showing polarity from alpha to gamma sunspots and their complexities. There is also a representation of the black and white coloring of sunspots to show polarity.Citation: Sunspotter Team. Complexity. Digital image. What Is Sunspot Complexity?Zooniverse, n.d. Web. 11 July 2014. <http://www.sunspotter.org/?utm_source=Zooniverse%20Home&utm_medium=Web&utm_campaign=Homepage%20Catalogue#/science/complexity>.

It is extremely important to help scientists develop stronger knowledge about sunspot complexities. This will help scientists answer a few of the difficult questions that are still unanswered till this day. For an example, are sunspots born complex or do they evolve to become complex? And, do sunspot groups that are more/less complex produce more eruptions? With this experiment, Citizen Scientists are attempting to improve the accuracy of making predictions of solar eruptions. Being more knowledgeable of the sun and sunspots will help us protect humans and the Earth. You can help Citizen Scientists with their experiment by visiting the Sunspotters page. All you have to do is choose which image appears more complex!


 Citation: Sunspotter Team. Classify Sunspots. Digital image. Which Is More Complex? Zooniverse, n.d. Web. 11 July 2014.


I hope you all enjoyed exploring teen blog posts about astronomy and science that is interesting to them. I will continue to blog on the Astro-Journalist web page so please come back and visit soon. To learn more about sunspots you can visit all of the web pages and sites I have used while exploring sunspots. Thank you once again.



(Works cited)






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