09 June 2023 - Mission Day: 10052 - DOY: 160


Forecasting Sunspots

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( 12M)

Movie of the detected travel-time perturbations before the emergence of active region 10488. First 10 seconds show intensity observations. The intensity later fades out and the photospheric magnetic field is shown. Next 20 seconds, zoom in to a region where a sunspot group would emerge. The upper layer shows magnetic field observations at the surface and the lower layer shows simultaneous travel-time perturbations, detected at a depth of about 60,000 km. After the emergence, intensity observations show the development of this active region, until it rotates out of the field of view. (Movie made by T. Hartlep)

MP4 format


Movie shows the detected travel-time perturbations during the emergence of active region 11158. First 12 seconds of the movie show photospheric intensity observations (orange color) of the region, and travel-time perturbations detected at a depth of about 60,000 km (blue-red color). Then, movie shows sunspots (blue and orange) on the solar surface and coronal loops (light green) observed by SDO/AIA. (Movie made by T. Hartlep and S. Winegarden)

    Images of surface and subsurface magnetic activity of active region 10488. The upper layer shows the photospheric magnetic field, and the lower layer shows the acoustic travel-time perturbations detected at a depth of about 60,000 km. The left image was taken at about 03:30 UT 26 October 2003 and the right image about 2 days later.

    Acoustic travel-time perturbations detected at a depth of about 60,000 km (left) and simultaneous observations of the photospheric intensity (middle) and magnetic field (right). The images of the upper row were taken at about 03:30 UT 26 October 2003 and those of the lower row about 2 days later.

Stanford University scientists, analyzing archival data from the Michelson Doppler Imager (MDI) on SOHO, have for the first time succeeded in detecting sunspot regions in the deep interior of the Sun, 1-2 days before they appear at the solar surface.

Sunspots, dark features in the solar photosphere with strong magnetic fields, have been observed for more than 400 years. They are the most visible components of regions where solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs) occur, which may cause power outages and interruptions of telecommunication and navigation services on the Earth. Although it is widely believed that sunspot regions are generated in the deep solar interior, the emergence of these regions through the convection zone to the photosphere has remained undetected until now.

The results of the Stanford scientists show that sunspots are generated at least 60,000 km below the surface and emerge from this depth up to the surface with an average speed of 0.3-0.6 km/s. The detection of sunspots in the solar interior may lead to significant advances in space weather forecasting. The technique that they used to detect the sunspots is called "time-distance helioseismology", which is similar to an approach widely used in earthquake studies. Just as seismic waves traveling through the body of Earth reveal what is inside the planet, acoustic waves traveling through the body of the Sun can reveal what is inside the star. Submerged sunspots have a detectable effect on the sun's inner acoustics—namely, sound waves travel faster through a sunspot than through the surrounding plasma. A big sunspot can leapfrog an acoustic wave by 12 to 16 seconds.

The results are reported in the paper "Detection of Emerging Sunspot Regions in the Solar Interior" by Stathis Ilonidis, Junwei Zhao, and Alexander Kosovichev, published in the August 19 issue of Science (Vol. 333, pp. 993-996, 2011).



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