The Effects of Sunspots on Earth

Sunspots and their effects on earth

Yes, our Sun has spots, and of course, they are called sunspots. They were first observed by Galileo as he observed the sun through a telescope, but they look darker, even to the naked eye.

Sunspots are storms on the sun’s surface that are cooler than the surrounding material. The cooler temperatures result in increased magnetic activity which allows the charged particles to escape from the sun’s atmosphere because of their increased activity. These particles are called a solar wind.

Sunspots normally occur in seasons of 11-year cycles. Forecasts in 2006 predicted Cycle 24 to start between late 2007 and early 2008. When this did not occur, new estimates indicated a delay until 2009. As of mid-June 2009, however, the predicted increase in solar activity still had not yet begun. Some studies indicate that sunspot activity overall has doubled in the last century, with the sun glowing more brightly by about .01 percent now than it did 100 years ago.

The primary effect of sunspots on the Earth is on the very upper part of the atmosphere, or ionosphere. The particles in the solar wind can interact with atoms in the upper atmosphere and create problems with communications systems such as background static in data transmitted from satellites and destruction of GPS data. In extreme circumstances, high levels of solar wind can bring about a solar storm where large quantities of charged material is sent into the earth’s atmosphere. Although this material is not physically dangerous, it does cause the Earth’s upper atmosphere to swell in response to the extra heating. This swelling can promote the decay of satellites in the Earth’s lower orbit.

Some scientists blame global warming on variations in the sun’s output due to sunspots and solar wind. They contend that an increase in sunspot activity can result in an increase of global temperatures on Earth. Others agree that sunspots and solar wind could be playing a part in climate change, but view the effects as minimal. They attribute the Earth’s warming primarily to man-made sources such as industrial activity.

The only way to determine for sure if sunspots and solar wind are playing a larger role in climate change than is believed would be to significantly reduce man-made carbon emissions. Only then would scientists be able to determine for such how much of an impact sunspots and solar wind have on the planet’s climate.