Announcement: What are Sunspots and Where Did They Go

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Sunspots are relatively cool regions of hot gas on the Sun’s surface, prevented by intense magnetic fields from plunging back into the depths of the Sun for a reheat. These spots wax and wane in a cycle that averages 11 years.

During the peak of the cycle, the Sun is at its most active, generating solar flares, prominence, coronal mass ejections (CMEs), and coronal hole outbursts. All of these can occur at any time during the solar cycle, but they are most frequent during its peak.

The Sun and stars are powered by fusion rather than fission. The core of the sun is dominated by hydrogen and at temperatures where hydrogen fusion is possible. Evidence for a potential long-term slowdown or even halt to sunspots for a period of time come through three sets of measurements.

Drawing on 13 years of sunspot data, National Solar Observatory researchers Matt Penn and William Livingston have documented a consistent decline in the strength of the magnetic fields associated with sunspots. If the strength of those fields drops below a certain level, the spots vanish.

If the decline in magnetic-field strength continues at its current pace, Dr. Penn says, cycle 25 may have no sunspots at all.”

Hill’s group at the National Solar Observatory used measurements of the Sun’s acoustic signals to gauge the movement of high-speed jet streams of solar material inside the Sun’s northern and southern hemisphere. These jet streams tend to form at high latitudes and migrate toward the equator over the course of a sunspot cycle. And they tend to be the spawning grounds for sunspots.

Typically, new jets, the foundations for a new sunspot maximum, form even before the existing jets reach the equator and vanish, Hill explains. The new jets should have started forming in 2008. They have yet to appear.