Solar Storms and You!

Activity 1: The Sunspot Cycle



The student will create a list and construct a graph of the number of sunspots using both technology and paper. The student will explore patterns in the data and locate the maximum and the minimum.
Graph paper(18 kby)
Colored pencils
Sunspot data table
Graphing calculator
Teacher notes on the graphing calculator.... Part 1(19 kby).....Part 2(16 kby)


  1. Divide the students into groups and assign a time period from the data table that each group will graph. Some possible lengths are the 1900's, 1800's, every 50 years, or a column in the table (be aware that assigning less than 50 data points will prevent pattern recognition).
  2. Using the graphing calculators, the students will input their data. They will use the trace key to explore the graph of their data while they look for a pattern or observation. Allow each group to report on their findings. They may or may not agree on a pattern within the groups as well as within the classroom as a whole.
  3. Students will then construct the graph of the table on graph paper. Some possible options here are to have the students each construct the graph, have each group use their assigned data and put the results of the class, as a whole, on the wall, or have the groups do a graph of the entire data. Be sure to agree upon a consistent scale for ease of construction and display.
  4. Discuss the results of the entire sunspot table as a whole. Look for patterns such as the maximum and the minimum.
  5. Students then predict when the next maximum will occur. Students will then construct what the graph would look like if this pattern continued on through the year 2099.

Key Terminology

Maximum: A large number of sunspots in a particular cycle.
Minimum: A small number of sunspots in a particular cycle.
Sunspot: A dark spot on the sun indicating a cooler temperature.


What is a sunspot?
A sunspot is a region on the sun that can be seen as a small dark spot through a telescope. Since their discovery by Galileo in 1609, astronomers have learned that they are regions, about the size of the Earth, where powerful magnetic fields are concentrated. Often the site of solar flares and other storm activity, these spots are dark because the temperature of the solar gases inside them is about 2000 K cooler than the rest of the sun (5770 K). They appear black because they emit less light than the sun. In fact, if they were suspended in the night sky, they would glow a bright red color and be brighter than the full moon. The sunspot cycle has been seen since about 1670 and has a period of about 11 years. Before 1670, no such cycles were seen and this time corresponded to the 'Little Ice Age' in Europe. Scientists now think that the solar activity influences the Earth's weather in some way.

Related Web Resources

Visit the IMAGE/POETRY Sunspot Resources page to find links to online classroom exercises, primers about sunspots, archives of daily ( monthly and annual too!) sunspot numbers that go back to 1600, and today's sunspot number!

Return to the Table of Contents
This activity was developed by the NASA, IMAGE/POETRY 
Teacher and Student Consortium. 
For more information, and a list of other resources, visit 
the IMAGE/POETRYweb site.