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Sunspots

Page history last edited by ZahraB 9 years, 2 months ago

 by: Zahra Batool & Claire Wilson

Introduction


 

Hey physics kids, how much do you know about sunspots? Not a lot, eh? Yeah. That's what I thought. Well take a look around; you happen to conveniently be on a page that discusses what sunspots are. Phenomenal, right? Well read on to learn lots of THRILLING facts about the Sun and sunspots.

 

Here's what you get the learn about:

 


 

A Bit About the Sun


 

     Yes it is a big flaming ball in the sky, BUT did you know the celestial body is actually made up of hot gases held together by its own gravity! Cool! Also, sorry to break the news but it's the Sun at the centre of our solar system, not you. 

 

What else is there to know about the Sun you might ask?

     Well, if you look at the pretty picture on the right you'll see that the Sun has many different parts, the main one's include:

  • The Core: 15 million°C. Where nuclear fusion occurs (join two Hydrogen atoms together to make a Helium atom) to produce the sun's energy. Hooray!
  • The Radiative Zone: Energy from the core moves outward via, you guessed it, radiation (electromagnetic radiation to be specific).
  • The Convection Zone: Where heat and energy are carried outward by swirling convection cells.
  • The Photosphere: The surface of the sun and is 5,500°C. It has solar flares which are plasma that gets shot away from the sun when a magnetic field line bursts out from the surface and are comprised of energetic particles, x-rays, and magnetic fields, these flares bombard earth in the form of geomagnetic storms. But most importantly it has SUNSPOTS! YAY!
  • The Chromosphere: A red layer about the photosphere that is about 2500 km thick and is seen during a solar eclipse.
  • The Atmosphere: Also known as the corona and is about 1 million°C ouch! Looks red but actually is white, weird.

 

                                                                                               Different parts of the sun!

                                                                                                                                                                                http://sohowww.nascom.nasa.gov/explore/lessons/convection.html

 

The Solar Dynamo


Magnetic field lines on the Sun, on August 20, 2010. Credit: NASA SDO/Lockheed Martin Space Systems Compan

 

     To start, the Solar Dynamo explains how the Sun is able to create a long lasting dipole (North and South) magnetic field. You see, inside of the sun because of all the heat and pressure which causes electrons to separate from their nuclei. Then, because of convection currents within the Sun, moving electrical charges or electric currents are created. Then, and here's the exciting part, electrical currents can produce magnetic fields! (In case you don't remember Mr. Brichta explaining that one) Now, something to keep in mind is that there are lots and lots of electrons flowing in all kinds of different ways inside the sun and even on the surface which all help contribute to the Sun magnetic field!

 

     Want to hear something else crazy about the Sun?                                     

The magnetic fields are all stretched, twisted and folded! Crazy I know.

And what causes all this craziness? Well it's done by the flow of gases in all different places and ways as well as the rotation of the Sun which distorts all the magnetic field lines.

 

     BUT, the mechanism of the solar dynamo is unknown to this day.

dun dun dunnnnnn.  

                                                                                                                                                                      What the Sun's magnetic field lines end up looking like!

  http://spacefellowship.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/sunmaglines-610x610.jpg

 

What are Sunspots?


 

First thing's first: you're probably eagerly anticipating to hear what sunspots actually are, right?

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     STOP!

Oh look, it's some sunspots.

 

http://sohowww.nascom.nasa.gov/data/synoptic/sunspots_earth/mdi_sunspots_1024.jpg

 

 

Now that I've built up the suspense, allow me to enlighten you.

     Sunspots are darker circles that appear on the sun's surface every now and then, and are associated with strong magnetic fields.

 

     Time to get serious now, so here's the more 'sciencey' answer:

Remember how the sun has magnetic fields that are all loopy twisted? Yes? Delightful.

What happens is that because of convection, rotation, heat and other factors, and the magnetic fields getting really compressed and distorted then some magnetic field line shooting up and away from the sun's surface. As they moves away from the sun, you can imagine that it would naturally cool by a thousand degrees or so, which it does! Also the magnetic field reduces the effect of convection which also cools it. This cooling gives it a darker colour than its surroundings and makes it appear as a darker blotch on the sun's photosphere (surface). Ta-dah! You have a sunspot.

 

*Note: Sunspots may be cooler in temperature (about 1,500°C to 2,500°C cooler then it's surroundings), but are still smokin' hot at over 3700°C. Ohhh, baby. 

Sunspots can also commonly found on grandmothers,

but they aren't the same as one's on the sun.

   http://www.howtolook10yearsyounger.com/images/age_spots.jpg

Other Neat-o Facts about sunspots:

  • Usually occur in pairs (opposite polarities) linked by loops of magnetic field that arch through the suns corona (atmosphere)
  • Central region called umbra is darker (vertical magnetic field lines)
  • Outer region called penumbra is lighter halo (almost horizontal magnetic field lines)
  • Usually occur near the suns equator
  • Not permanent because Sun’s surface is gaseous  
  • Sunspots vary in size from eentsy-weensy to 80 000km wide in diameter! You could see that from earth!
  • They're very chill in that they grow and shrink while the sun rotates and basically go with the flooooow.
  • Sometimes they hang around for months or even years! 
 

The Cycle of a Sunspot


 

     Sunspots, surprisingly enough, go through cycles that last for 11 years. Also, it takes 22 year for the sun's north and south pole to completely switch.

So what's important to understand is that sunspot activity fluctuates because magnetic field activity is constantly changing over short periods of time.

 

This solar cycle is determined by counting the number of sunspot occurrences.
  • When there's a minimum number of sunspots, that is known as the solar minimum.
  • About five years later, it raises to its solar maximum.
  • Then it falls back to it solar minimum again.
That whole process takes eleven years but no on is 100% why it happens. 
   
 Here's a graph of past and future sunspot occurences and their cycle 

History of Sunspots


People have been checking out sunspots since the dawn of time... Well, 800 BC to be exact. That was when the Chinese put down the first written record of sunspot observation! Fast forward to the 1600's. This is when the telescope came into play and it really set the ball rolling. Astronomers of that time had all sorts of hypotheses for what sunspots were: shadows of undiscovered planets, clouds on the Sun, magic, etc.    

Present day observations of sunspots reveal that they are increasing in numbers... What does this mean? To find out, read on! 

 

Sunspots Affect on Us


 

     There's this guy named Dearborn. He's a smart scientist so you can pretty much trust his words when he says, "The sunspot itself, the dark region on the sun, doesn't by itself affect the earth. However, it is produced by a magnetic field, and that magnetic field doesn't just stop, it comes to the surface and expands out above the surface." (http://cse.ssl.berkeley.edu/segwayed/lessons/sunspots/research5.html) In gist, he's saying that the sunspots aren't directly affecting us but can cause solar flares (fountains of hot gases) that burst out of the surface of the sun and shoot all sorts of particles. When these particles make it to the earth they are called geomagnetic storms and make some silly things happen. Thankfully the earth's atmosphere helps protect us for the most part.

 

Here are some ways that solar flares affect earth:

  • damage electrical transformers
  • can disrupt or alter radio or cellular signals 
  • create background static in satellite transmissions and short wave radio communication
  • makes watching the Aurora Borealis and Aurora Australis a lot more exciting
  • disrupts power grids and radio transmissions
  • possibly climate change, yet this remains very controversial! 

 

Question  


Last but not least, I need you to tell me one thing:

Describe in a three point summary how sunspots form. Mr. Brichta is personally paying cash out of his own paycheque for the first three people to correctly answer!

 

Extra Cool Stuff


 

A lovely song wouldn't you say?


Why Does The Sun Shine  

If you want to see it in a video here's a bit of a different version

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zbgul1NpEA8&feature=related

 

Check out this exhilarating simulation next: 

http://www.exploratorium.edu/sunspots/xrayvsvisible.html

It compares an x-ray ninja vision of the sun on the left and a normal light view on the right.

You can slow it down to get a closer look.

 

This is video of a guy who really knows his stuff showing us up with how smart he is.

You can watch the whole video but we would suggest you start at 01:53 and go until 05:08

http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/video/2009/apr/24/sun-fusion-sunspot-solar-cycle

 

Here's another video about the sun's magnetism. Wahoo! 

http://videos.howstuffworks.com/tlc/29945-solar-empire-the-suns-magnetism-video.htm

 

Another great song about the Sun! YAY!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FwOomEMSxC0

 

 

Sources to Make Mr. Brichta Happy :)


 

http://www.windows2universe.org/sun/sun.html

http://www.exploratorium.edu/sunspots/

http://solarscience.msfc.nasa.gov/SunspotCycle.shtml

http://solarscience.msfc.nasa.gov/dynamo.shtml

http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/video/2009/apr/24/sun-fusion-sunspot-solar-cycle

http://videos.howstuffworks.com/tlc/29945-solar-empire-the-suns-magnetism-video.htm

http://csep10.phys.utk.edu/astr162/lect/sun/sunspots.html

http://www.space.com/11088-northern-lights-major-solar-flare.html

 

 

 

 

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