What are sunspots

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Although most people assume that the sun is a fine, round, and smooth ball of fire with no blemishes, a closer inspection shows that it has several dark spots known as sunspots. These sunspots usually occur in pairs or groups and arise from the sun's interiors. Notably, they can be observed for several weeks before dissipating into the solar interiors. Over the years, these magnificent solar characteristics have piqued the interest of academics and researchers who have attempted to explain how and why sunspots form. More specifically, the analysis of sunspots dates back to 1609 when Galileo claimed that, by studying these solar features, he had known that the sun took approximately thirty days to rotate. Increased studies have identified that sunspots are dark patches on the sun, which are cooler than the immediate atmosphere. Apparently, a major characteristic of these spots is that they have a strong concentration of magnetic fields of up to 4000 gauss (dhdhdhd). While there is plenty of information about sunspots today than there was centuries ago, their formation remains an unresolved issue in physics. This paper scratches on the much needed research of current theories on sunspots formation and prediction methods.

Descriptions of Sunspots

Before making an attempt to understand sunspots formation and predictions clues, it is imperative to fathom of their composition. Admittedly, an understanding of what makes up these solar features provides a framework of establishing logical theories and arguments on formation processes. Although the specific origin of sunspots remains a mystery, the contemporary understanding of their nature is more enhanced than that of Sir Robert Hooke, who claimed that the dark patches were soot in the solar fire (fhfhfhf). The ancient researcher knew about sunspots because some of these blemishes have diameters as long as 50,000 kilometers. Noting that these marks may be as wide as the earth, they are visible to the naked eye. Furthermore, sunspots may exist in singles, pairs, or groups of up to 100 blemishes. Every day, the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center examines the Active Region (sunspot group) facing the earth from the solar disk for their eruptive threat. Later, the experts assign each sunspot group with a number depending on the specific threats. Notably, large sunspots, particularly those with sophisticated magnetic layouts are believed to trigger natural disasters synonymous as solar flares including forests fires.

A group of sunspots: some are larger than earth

Over the years, numerous scholars have asserted that sunspots are relatively cooler patches that appear as black marks on the face of the sun. With a temperature of about 4,500 K, sunspots are about 1,500 chillier than the sun’s photosphere. Scientists and critics alike describe a sunspot as a thermal phenomenon by appearance. Nonetheless, although sunspots are said to be cooler than the sun, their temperature is ten times as high as that of boiling water. Also, these features radiate high amounts of light despite being darker than their immediate surroundings. Sunspots are cooler than their surroundings because of their strong magnetic fields that hinder the continuous transmission of heat. In tandem with the characteristic, many scholars regard sunspots as magnetic phenomena by origin. Overall, a typical sunspot has two parts: the umbra, which is the darkest part, and the penumbra, which is the lighter part that surrounds the umbra.

Parts of a sunspot

Theories Of Sunspots Formation

To date, the specific origins of sunspots remain a mystery, a factor that increases scholars’ interests in studying the sun. Over the years, different theorists have developed models that try understanding this unresolved problem of solar physics. A vast fraction of the developed theories have been disapproved by continued research and those that still exist do so tentatively.

The Rising Flux Tubes Theory

While modeling of the sun is challenging, this model is perhaps the most common the most common assumption of sunspots formation. In 1955, Parker developed the rising flux tubes theory based on magnetic buoyancy. The theory, which is also popular as the cluster model of sunspots formation, holds that after a magnetic flux tube forms the magnetic and gas pressure increases in tubes because of increased magnetic field. For horizontal pressure to balance, the density of the tube must decrease. As the tubes become lighter than their surroundings, the flux tubes tend to rise as shown in the figure below.

A sketch of an appearing magnetic flux tubes

Proponents of this theory opine that a dynamo triggers the flux tubes in an area of close proximity to the base of the convection region. In 1979, Parker proposed that these tubes have twists that help them to rise coherently despite of the disorderly convention zone (Jabbari 17). The assumption was affirmed by Brun and Jouve who, in 2007, used 3D numerical MHD simulations. Eventually, Parker concluded that sunspots occur when numerous flux tubes in the conventional zone rise via magnetic buoyancy and create single huge flux rube once they reach at the surface.

Other researchers advanced the flux tubes theory to explain why and how, sunspots remained visible for weeks but later disappeared into the solar interior. While using Parker’s suggestions, in 1979, Spruit attempted a description of the convective fall of the little flux tubes. The scholar held that the magnetic field represses convection when the former is bigger than the critical value. Naturally, the critical value at the solar surface is 1270G. Whenever the field strength is lesser than the critical value, a state of instability arises and results to downward flow. At the same time, temperatures fall and triggers high magnetic field concentrations in the upper layers. According to Spruit (1979), these processes are the convective collapse of flux tubes. On the flip side, when the field strength is greater than the critical value, the tubes acquire a new equilibrium with lower energy. Nonetheless, if the newly established magnetic field has a concentration lower than the critical value, the tube continues to sink and soon vanishes from the surface of the sun.

Praise and Criticism of the Rising Flux Tubes Theory

Over time, the rising flux tubes theory has received praise and criticism almost in equal measures. On the on hand, scientists claim that through this model, they can observe diverse sunspots’ properties such as their east-west orientation, bipolarity, and polarity inversion with latitude and time. Additionally, the rising flux tube theory of sunspot formation facilitates an understanding of sunspots’ positions in low latitudes as well as their diverse tilt angles. Nonetheless, despite these appraisals, the theory has faced some criticism. To form sunspots with such great magnetic fields, there must be flux tubes with greater magnetic fields. However, neither observations nor simulations by researchers such as Fan in 2009 for Guerrero and Kapyla in 2011 have proven such scenarios. These tests did not affirm the presence of magnetic fields with maximum strengths enough to push the flux tubes to the surface and establish sunspots. Overall, the rising flux tube theory remains one of the most notable explanations on formation of sunspots.

The Negative Effective Magnetic Pressure Instability (NEMPI)

Besides the Rising Flux Tube Theory, the NEMPI models is the other most celebrated approach of explaining sunspot formation. From 1989 to 1990, Kleeorin and others embarked on a research to an alternative explanation of the gigantic magnetic field concentration the sun’s turbulent plasma (sunspots). In tandem with their model, when large-scale magnetic fields suppresses the sum tumultuous pressure, there occurs a negative turbulent impact to the overall field magnetic pressure, which in turn triggers large scale instabilities. The NEMPI model has proven to be effective in explaining the origin of Active Regions on the surface of the sun. Given the established fact that it is solar dynamos that establish large scale magnetic fields in the sun, one strategy of having a realistic model that explains sunspots formation is by studying a system where Negative Effective Magnetic Pressure Instability (NEMPI) originates from a dynamo- generated magnetic field.

Over the years, numerous scholars have proved that Negative Effective Magnetic Pressure Instability (NEMPI) works in scales involving many turbulent eddies. In relation to isothermal layers, mean field simulations (MFS) and Direct Numerical Simulation (DNS) have shown that the onset of sunspots caused by NEMPI occur at the same depths. However, as the magnetic field increases, so does the depths. In long run, the maximum growth rate of the instability and the field strength are independent of each other. However, for this phenomenon to occur, the magnetic structures are supposed to be fully contained in this domain.

The Babcock Model

Given that there is no single was of explaining formation of sunspots, scientists also use the Babcock Model to elucidate magnetic and sunspots patterns observed on the surface of the sun. The Babcock model dates back to 1961 when Horace Babcock enhanced George Hale’s ideas. The model holds that the sun facilitates an oscillatory magnetic field that has a quasi-steady periodicity that lasts for 22 years. The oscillation is synonymous as the Babcock- Leighton dynamo cycle that facilitates the oscillatory transfer of energy from poloidal to toroidal solar magnetic fields ingredients.

According to the Babcock-Leighton dynamo cycle, which is at the core of the Babcock theory of sunspots formation, a half dynamo cycle is equal to a single sunspots cycle. During solar maximum the magnetic field of the peripheral poloidal is closer to the minimum strength of the dynamo cycle while an internal toraoidal quadrupolar field, arising from a different rotation, is closer to optimum strength.

Predicting Methods

Since the Galileo discovered sunspots in the seventieth century, scientists embarked on a mission to not only understand the composition and formation of active regions but also a strategy of predicting their occurrences. The need to establish effective methods of predicting the formation of active regions in exacerbated by the fact that sunspots have a high tendency of causing natural disasters such as forest flares. Although some of the predicting methods have low levels of accuracy, they are still important.

The easiest and most observable feature of solar activity is the dark blemishes that occur on the surface of the sun. Since 1610, scientists have used telescopic objects to observe those marks in the solar disk. Ancient observers opined that the number of sunspots at any given time present an index of the overall solar magnetic actions. According to Eddy, Hoyt, and Schatten, the number of marks in an active region shows time changes in a unique cyclic manner. In solar-terrestrial physics, the sunspots number R is used as a proxy for the overall state of solar activity. Notably, “R” is more accurate after 1850 since daily averages are seen often. Although a solar dynamo approach to predicting solar activity would be the most ideal, scientists are yet to develop such a model. Currently, only two approaches are used to predict solar activities.

Strictly Numerical models

These methods rely on the identification of any amplitudes and periodicities that can generate past solar cycles. A primary advantage of the numerical-based prediction tactic is that it is possible to predict future solar cycles regardless of the exact time in future. Additionally, this strategy can be beneficial in the reconstruction of past solar activities that occurred before scientists took their measurements. Through the approach, scientists can tell with accuracy when a future solar activity will occur. However, a disadvantage of such models is that it does not use any physical information. The method assumes that the essential part of the phenomenon is periodic, therefore, critical periodicities have been observed in data.

Precursor Techniques

These approaches rely on statistics and they aim at establishing a relationship between geographical parameters and sunspots numbers during solar maximum or any other point in the course of the cycle. Over the years, scientists such as Ohl and Kane have asserted that that the precursor methods are relatively successful than other approaches. Although scholars have widely employed these techniques, the precursor approaches have failed to predict with accuracy the solar cycle 23 maximum.

The Ohl’s Technique

The Ohl’s prediction method is arguably the most popular approach of predicting solar activities. The Ohl’s method, while using linear regression techniques and relationship examination, shows a successful prediction of cycle amplitude is achievable if the connection between the lower aa geomagnetic index in the reducing duration of the solar cycle as well as the sunspots maximum of the next cycle increases in strength. Also, the Ohl’s methods of prediction is successful when the predicting error is large than expected error. The primary assumption of this technique is that the value of the geomagnetic aa index at its lowest was associated with to the sunspot value at the succeeding maximum. The primary disadvantage of the Ohl’s prediction technique is that the lowest value of the aa index mostly occurs after sunspot minimum. Therefore, it is not possible to predict any solar activity unless the solar cycle starts.

University of Hawaii Theory

This is a newly developed model by researchers at the University of Hawaii. The approach holds that the pressure of certain areas of the sun decreases with the formation of hydrogen molecules. As a result, magnetic fields form and intensify. If the magnetic fields toughen, it hinders the movement of heat onto a certain area of the sun thus giving rise to a black blemish synonymous as a sunspot. After the temperatures of the sun’s surface decrease, a pair of hydrogen bond to form molecules. The pressure of these hydrogen molecules is half the pressure of the earlier atoms. As the pressure decreases, the magnetic fields continue to strengthen.

Changes in Earth’s magnetic field

Scientists have established a close relationship between the length of the preceding cycle and the intensity of the next solar activities. Also, there is a connection between activity intensity at sunspot minimum and the magnitude of the past cycle. Techniques that rely on alterations of the earth’s magnetic field have proven to be among the most accurate techniques. The notion behind this statement is that only solar storms trigger changes in the earth’s magnetic field. Unfortunately, the connection between solar storms, changes in the earth’s magnetic field, and future solar activities remain a mystery.

Richard Thompson Approach

According to Richard Thomson, the amplitude of the next sunspot maximum depends on the number of days of sunspot cycle who geomagnetic field was disturbed. In other words, a close examination of the duration of one solar activity gives a hint of the amplitude, duration, and intensity of the next sunspot cycle. The primary advantage of the Richard Thomson approach is that it can offer a relatively accurate prediction of the size of the next sunspot maximum even before the onset of the sunspot minimum.

Joan Feynmam Technique

The researcher stated that the aa geomagnetic index can divide into segments: one which is in proportion to the sunspot number, and the remaining component of the signal. The anlyst’s focus was on the remaining signal, which she said could give accurate predictions of the sunspots value even years before they occur. The maximum signal happens close to the sunspot minimum and is equal to the sunspot value in the succeeding maximum. This technique is superior to others in that it predicts the occurrence of an approaching sunspot minimum during the time of sunspot minimum.

Works Cited

Charbonneau, Paul. "Solar dynamo theory." Annual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics 52 (2014): 251-290.

Jabbari, Sarah. Origin of solar surface activity and sunspots. Diss. Stockholm University, 2014.

Schlichenmaier, R., et al. "The role of emerging bipoles in the formation of a sunspot penumbra." Astronomische Nachrichten331.6 (2010): 563-566.

Thomas, John H., and Nigel O. Weiss, eds. Sunspots: Theory and observations. Vol. 375. Springer Science & Business Media, 2012.

October 25, 2022

Human Body Nature Scientist

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Skin Sun Galileo Galilei

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