Science Information: What Are Sun Spots?

What are sunspots, their history and the affects they have on the earth? Tips on protecting the skin and eyes from the damaging effects.

Many people view the sun as a stationary, fiery object. But, in some sense, the sun actually contains some of the shifts and phenomena that a planet might. This article examines the phenomena of sunspots, and their dark presence on the plasma of the sun.

Sunspots are dark spots that migrate across the surface of the sun. They can be as large as 60,000 miles across, and are caused when magnetic fields under the surface of the sun are twisted and poke through the sun's photosphere. These spots are different from solar flares and solar ejaculations, both of which form arcs over the surface of the sun.

It is believed that some ancient people were able to see and recognize sunspots. They were glimpsed in 28 BCE by Chinese astronomers watching the heavens. Detailed maps of the sun exist from Meso-American cultures. The Aztecs, in particular, created the sun from gold with black tarnishing the face. This might have been from examination of sunspots. Almost all ancient cultures regarded the sun as some kind of primal force, and many thought of it as a god. The sun itself is responsible for the creation of this planet, so this observation is not off the mark. However, the appearance of darker spots on the sun might have been interpreted at certain times as displeasure of the gods. Sunspots may have been the cause of everything from early harvests to sheer panic.

Galileo's creation of the telescope was a great clue toward the nature of sunspots. Suddenly people were able to examine the surface of the sun and moon, and see things in the sky not visible before. Galileo was the first person to officially record the presence of sunspots on the sun, and because his discovery conflicted with the idea of "untainted heavens" put forth by Aristotle, he was eventually condemned for his work. In 1607, a scientist named Johannes Kepler projected an image of the sun into his observatory in order to observe the planet Mercury. He believe that a sunspot was actually the planet Mercury, and recorded his finding as such.

Every 11 years, the sun goes through a cycle that moves between a solar maximum of sunspots, solar flares and solar ejaculations, to a solar minimum of these. Sunspot Cycle #23 is the current cycle that the sun is experiencing. According to this cycle, the year 2000 should experience a strong appearance of sunspots. The sun's activity, no matter how far away from us, has an influence on the weather. Scientists are even researching ways to obtain future weather reports based on the surface of the sun. They now contain the ability to predict, to a certain degree, the next appearance of sunspots and where on the sun they will occur.

It is not advisable to look for sunspots with the naked eye. Looking directly at the sun is extremely dangerous for the long-term health of the eye. If you wish to see sunspots, use the proper scientific equipment, such as a shaded telescope or eyewear.

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