Sunspots: Butterfly Diagram

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Sunspots are regions of intense magnetic fields on the surface of the sun. They give us a picture of the activity of the sun’s activity. The more energy the sun is emitting – the more sunspots. It turns out that sunspots wax and wane in cycles of eleven years and right now we’re heading into “solar minimum” — a period of low sunspot activity. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. During the eleven year cycle, it’s not just the number of sunspots that changes, their location varies, too.

“Early in the sunspot cycle, sunspots appear higher in latitudes, closer to the poles of the sun. And as the sunspot cycle progresses, the sunspots appear lower and lower in latitude. And so, right now, if you went to images of the sun, you would see them closer to the equator, and that would give you a clue as to where we are in the solar cycle as well.”

Aimee Norton is a scientist at the High Altitude Observatory at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado

“Sunspots are thought to emerge from a large reservoir of magnetic field that exists inside of the sun. And this large magnetic field inside the sun is thought to exist at high latitudes and then move slowly equator-ward, so that you see the sunspots moving equator – ward as time progresses as well. This phenomena is captured in something known as the Butterfly Diagram. And that’s a map that if you plotted out a slice of the sun from the north to the south every year, and it showed where the sunspots were, you would see sunspots starting at the high latitudes in both the north and the south hemispheres and then moving towards the equator. And if you looked at that over time, it looks like two wings of a butterfly on the diagram, and that’s why it’s called the Butterfly Diagram.

Pulse of the Planet is made possible by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.

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Sunspots: Butterfly Diagram

Just what is a sunspot, really?
Air Date:06/06/2008
Scientist:
Transcript:

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Sunspots are regions of intense magnetic fields on the surface of the sun. They give us a picture of the activity of the sun's activity. The more energy the sun is emitting - the more sunspots. It turns out that sunspots wax and wane in cycles of eleven years and right now we're heading into "solar minimum" -- a period of low sunspot activity. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. During the eleven year cycle, it's not just the number of sunspots that changes, their location varies, too.

"Early in the sunspot cycle, sunspots appear higher in latitudes, closer to the poles of the sun. And as the sunspot cycle progresses, the sunspots appear lower and lower in latitude. And so, right now, if you went to images of the sun, you would see them closer to the equator, and that would give you a clue as to where we are in the solar cycle as well."

Aimee Norton is a scientist at the High Altitude Observatory at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado

"Sunspots are thought to emerge from a large reservoir of magnetic field that exists inside of the sun. And this large magnetic field inside the sun is thought to exist at high latitudes and then move slowly equator-ward, so that you see the sunspots moving equator - ward as time progresses as well. This phenomena is captured in something known as the Butterfly Diagram. And that's a map that if you plotted out a slice of the sun from the north to the south every year, and it showed where the sunspots were, you would see sunspots starting at the high latitudes in both the north and the south hemispheres and then moving towards the equator. And if you looked at that over time, it looks like two wings of a butterfly on the diagram, and that's why it's called the Butterfly Diagram.

Pulse of the Planet is made possible by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.

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