Tracing the Solar Cycle

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Sunspots are one of the major features observed on the solar surface. They represent regions of concentrated magnetic fields that emerge into the solar atmosphere and eventually produce solar flares and coronal mass ejections. Galileo first observed sunspots over 400 years ago. Since that time, we have had an accurate description of how their total number varies from year to year. Is there any pattern in their appearances? The Sun shows an amazing pattern of eleven-year cycles in the number of solar sunspots and associated solar flares. Figure 11.27 in the textbook and more recent data at the Sid Monitoring Station Web site show plots of monthly averaged sunspot numbers over the last 400 years (from 1610–2014). During a solar cycle, not only sunspot numbers, but also other characteristics evolved, including:

  • The frequency of flares, coronal mass ejections, and, consequently, geomagnetic storms.
  • The flux of short-wavelength solar radiation, UV, EUV, and x-ray, as well as radio emissions.
  • The flux of high-energy galactic cosmic rays in the inner solar system.

Using the following resources, write a 1–2 page essay that addresses the following topics (three sentences minimum per topic):

  1. Using Figure 11.27 from Rocking Stories of the Universethat depicts the sunspot numbers from years 1610–2000, complete the following:
    1. Describe the cycles that are the least and most active.
    2. Conduct a Google search for any significant climate events on any of these dates.
    3. Document your conclusions.
  2. The four plots at the Sid Monitoring Station Web site depict a daily average of the x-ray flux measured in the 1 to 8 Å range by the GOES satellites, x-ray, optical flare numbers, and sunspot numbers (the plot at the end of the page) over the last 20 years. Respond to the following topics:
    • Identify how many solar cycles this period of observation covers (from minimum to maximum).
    • Referring to Figure 11.27 in the textbook, explain if you think these cycles are typical over the last 400 years of observations.
    • Describe the periods of time related to growth, (peak to peak, valley to valley), the total x-ray flux, x-ray flares, and sunspot numbers related to each other.
    • Describe the current part of the solar cycle we are in today.
    • Explain the role of space weather on a planet’s habitability.

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