At a young age, we all learn how the sun affects the temperature on Earth. It’s not like a much of an explanation is needed. When the sun is out, the weather is warm and, sometimes, depending on where you live, humid. However, despite the fact that the sun’s effects are common sense, most people don’t know anything about sunspots, which also have a notable influence on our weather.
What Are Sunspots?
If you think the sun is a perfectly smooth sphere with a uniform surface, you’ll be surprised to know that it’s in a state of constant chaos. As a dying star, this makes sense, of course.
Sunspots occur in a region of the sun known as the photosphere. In this area, the temperature is usually around 5,800 degrees Kelvin. Temperatures for sunspots tend to be much lower, 3,800 degrees Kelvin. This helps explain why sunspots are so much darker in color compared to their surroundings on the sun.
Of course, if you were to remove a sunspot from the sun and look at it in isolation, it would still be incredibly bright.
No one knows for sure what causes sunspots. As you can probably understand, there’s a lot we still don’t know about the sun despite the prominent role it plays for all of us on Earth.
However, scientists believe that it has something to do with the sun’s magnetic field. They always accompany incidents of intense magnetic activity. When the activity reaches a certain level – boom – a sunspot appears.
This eruption sends what we call solar flares into the atmosphere. They look like strands of the sun splashing into space momentarily. Coronal mass ejections – which are basically solar fire storms – also explode forth from sunspots.
Sunspots and Weather Change
Such violent explosions on the sun’s surface should have some resulting effect on the weather down on Earth, correct?
The truth is that we don’t yet know for sure. Although sunspots were recorded going back more than 2,000 years, a lot of factors are still keeping us from understanding how much influence they may have. Again, we don’t even know what causes them, yet.
Interestingly, when these solar explosions face our planet, the amount of electromagnetism they produce can create geomagnetic storms for us. While they’re too high into the atmosphere for most of us to notice, they’re powerful enough to affect radio communication.
Sunspots and the Little Ice Age
Much of the correlation that’s theorized to exist between sunspots and our planet’s temperature is because of a period of time known as the Little Ice Age. This took place between roughly 1300 and 1850.
As the name suggests, during this time, temperatures dropped throughout Europe and other areas of the world, including as far as New Zealand. Most suggest that this was a natural reaction to the Medieval Warm Period that had preceded it.
However, some have also pointed out that there were no recorded sunspots between 1645 and 1710. Recall that, even without the benefit of high-powered telescopes, sunspots had been observed going back more than millennia.
During ages of high sunspot activity, like the 12th and 13th centuries, the climate seems to have been much warmer.
Many meteorologists have proposed a theory that a lack of sunspots may contribute to the falling temperatures around the world, while an abundance of them does the opposite. At the moment, this theory hasn’t found much widespread support.
Time will tell whether or not sunspots play a role in the forecast down here. Although hard evidence hasn’t been found yet, it’s hard to believe that these violent eruptions wouldn’t somehow be felt down here.