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)
Sunspot data table
Teacher notes on the graphing calculator....
Part 1(19 kby).....Part 2(16 kby)
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).
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.
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
Discuss the results of the entire sunspot table as a whole. Look
for patterns such as the maximum and the minimum.
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.
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
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