Sunspot Science: Measuring the Frequency and Period of Sunspots

written by
Rebecca E. Vieyra
written by
Ramon Lopez
written by
Shannon Willoughby
written by
Janelle M. Bailey

This activity for introductory physics introduces authentic sunspot data from NASA's Solar Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) to promote understanding of period and frequency in the context of cyclical patterns on the sun. Students will use time-stamped images to identify and analyze patterns in sunspot activity, then apply their findings to calculate the period of a solar cycle. This resource was developed with the support of a Cooperative Agreement from the NASA Heliophysics Education Consortium granted to Temple University and the AAPT. It is appropriate for lower-level undergraduate courses in conceptual physics and algebra-based physics. It can be easily adapted for high school physics courses as well.

Editor's Note:This activity explicitly meets NGSS standards relating to Wave Properties, Space Science, and Instrumentation. It can also serve as a cross-disciplinary lesson that blends data analysis with physical science. The mathematics is accessible to beginners who have not yet completed Algebra I, which allows students at varying levels to engage in the primary task of analyzing authentic data to form valid conclusions.

Waves and Their Applications in Technologies for Information Transfer (HS-PS4)

Students who demonstrate understanding can: (9-12)

Use mathematical representations to support a claim regarding relationships among the frequency, wavelength, and speed of waves traveling in various media. (HS-PS4-1)

Disciplinary Core Ideas (K-12)

Wave Properties (PS4.A)

The wavelength and frequency of a wave are related to one another by the speed of travel of the wave, which depends on the type of wave and the medium through which it is passing. (9-12)

Information Technologies and Instrumentation (PS4.C)

Multiple technologies based on the understanding of waves and their interactions with matter are part of everyday experiences in the modern world (e.g., medical imaging, communications, scanners) and in scientific research. They are essential tools for producing, transmitting, and capturing signals and for storing and interpreting the information contained in them. (9-12)

The Universe and its Stars (ESS1.A)

The star called the sun is changing and will burn out over a lifespan of approximately 10 billion years. (9-12)

Crosscutting Concepts (K-12)

Patterns (K-12)

Empirical evidence is needed to identify patterns. (9-12)

Scale, Proportion, and Quantity (3-12)

Algebraic thinking is used to examine scientific data and predict the effect of a change in one variable on another (e.g., linear growth vs. exponential growth). (9-12)

Systems and System Models (K-12)

When investigating or describing a system, the boundaries and initial conditions of the system need to be defined. (9-12)

Stability and Change (2-12)

Much of science deals with constructing explanations of how things change and how they remain stable. (9-12)

Scientific Knowledge Assumes an Order and Consistency in Natural Systems (1-12)

Science assumes the universe is a vast single system in which basic laws are consistent. (9-12)

NGSS Science and Engineering Practices (K-12)

Analyzing and Interpreting Data (K-12)

Analyzing data in 9–12 builds on K–8 and progresses to introducing more detailed statistical analysis, the comparison of data sets for consistency, and the use of models to generate and analyze data. (9-12)

Analyze data using tools, technologies, and/or models (e.g., computational, mathematical) in order to make valid and reliable scientific claims or determine an optimal design solution. (9-12)

Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking (5-12)

Mathematical and computational thinking at the 9–12 level builds on K–8 and progresses to using algebraic thinking and analysis, a range of linear and nonlinear functions including trigonometric functions, exponentials and logarithms, and computational tools for statistical analysis to analyze, represent, and model data. Simple computational simulations are created and used based on mathematical models of basic assumptions. (9-12)

Use mathematical representations of phenomena to support claims. (9-12)

NGSS Nature of Science Standards (K-12)

Analyzing and Interpreting Data (K-12)

Analyzing data in 9–12 builds on K–8 and progresses to introducing more detailed statistical analysis, the comparison of data sets for consistency, and the use of models to generate and analyze data. (9-12)

Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking (5-12)

Mathematical and computational thinking at the 9–12 level builds on K–8 and progresses to using algebraic thinking and analysis, a range of linear and nonlinear functions including trigonometric functions, exponentials and logarithms, and computational tools for statistical analysis to analyze, represent, and model data. Simple computational simulations are created and used based on mathematical models of basic assumptions. (9-12)

Teacher's Guide: Sunspot Science by R. Vieyra, R. Lopez, J. Bailey, and S. Willoughby
Word Version: Full Instructor's Guide including problem set with answer key download 4343kb .docx
Published: March 6, 2019
Rights: Temple University and AAPT

Student Worksheet: Sunspot Science by R. Vieyra and R. Lopez
Printable student handout download 4308kb .docx
Published: August 30, 2020
Released under a CC Noncommercial-Share Alike 4.0 license. Copyright AAPT and Temple University

Relative Position and Frames of Reference by David Straw and Caroline Hall This short student tutorial provides background information on frames of reference in space. Its goal is to promote understanding of the Earth/Sun system, giving consideration to the rotation of both sun and Earth, the ecliptic plane, and the tilt of both sun and …
This short student tutorial provides background information on frames of reference in space. Its goal is to promote understanding of the Earth/Sun system, giving consideration to the rotation of both sun and Earth, the ecliptic plane, and the tilt of both sun and Earth relative to the ecliptic plane.

Butterfly Effect, data analysis, frequency, lecture tutorial, period, periodicity, solar cycle, solar maximum, solar minimum, solar rotation, solar system, wave properties

Record Creator:

Metadata instance created March 24, 2019
by Caroline Hall

Waves and Their Applications in Technologies for Information Transfer (HS-PS4)

Students who demonstrate understanding can: (9-12)

Use mathematical representations to support a claim regarding relationships among the frequency, wavelength, and speed of waves traveling in various media. (HS-PS4-1)

Disciplinary Core Ideas (K-12)

Wave Properties (PS4.A)

The wavelength and frequency of a wave are related to one another by the speed of travel of the wave, which depends on the type of wave and the medium through which it is passing. (9-12)

Information Technologies and Instrumentation (PS4.C)

Multiple technologies based on the understanding of waves and their interactions with matter are part of everyday experiences in the modern world (e.g., medical imaging, communications, scanners) and in scientific research. They are essential tools for producing, transmitting, and capturing signals and for storing and interpreting the information contained in them. (9-12)

The Universe and its Stars (ESS1.A)

The star called the sun is changing and will burn out over a lifespan of approximately 10 billion years. (9-12)

Crosscutting Concepts (K-12)

Patterns (K-12)

Empirical evidence is needed to identify patterns. (9-12)

Scale, Proportion, and Quantity (3-12)

Algebraic thinking is used to examine scientific data and predict the effect of a change in one variable on another (e.g., linear growth vs. exponential growth). (9-12)

Systems and System Models (K-12)

When investigating or describing a system, the boundaries and initial conditions of the system need to be defined. (9-12)

Stability and Change (2-12)

Much of science deals with constructing explanations of how things change and how they remain stable. (9-12)

Scientific Knowledge Assumes an Order and Consistency in Natural Systems (1-12)

Science assumes the universe is a vast single system in which basic laws are consistent. (9-12)

NGSS Science and Engineering Practices (K-12)

Analyzing and Interpreting Data (K-12)

Analyzing data in 9–12 builds on K–8 and progresses to introducing more detailed statistical analysis, the comparison of data sets for consistency, and the use of models to generate and analyze data. (9-12)

Analyze data using tools, technologies, and/or models (e.g., computational, mathematical) in order to make valid and reliable scientific claims or determine an optimal design solution. (9-12)

Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking (5-12)

Mathematical and computational thinking at the 9–12 level builds on K–8 and progresses to using algebraic thinking and analysis, a range of linear and nonlinear functions including trigonometric functions, exponentials and logarithms, and computational tools for statistical analysis to analyze, represent, and model data. Simple computational simulations are created and used based on mathematical models of basic assumptions. (9-12)

Use mathematical representations of phenomena to support claims. (9-12)

NGSS Nature of Science Standards (K-12)

Analyzing and Interpreting Data (K-12)

Analyzing data in 9–12 builds on K–8 and progresses to introducing more detailed statistical analysis, the comparison of data sets for consistency, and the use of models to generate and analyze data. (9-12)

Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking (5-12)

Mathematical and computational thinking at the 9–12 level builds on K–8 and progresses to using algebraic thinking and analysis, a range of linear and nonlinear functions including trigonometric functions, exponentials and logarithms, and computational tools for statistical analysis to analyze, represent, and model data. Simple computational simulations are created and used based on mathematical models of basic assumptions. (9-12)

<a href="https://www.compadre.org/precollege/items/detail.cfm?ID=14987">Vieyra, R, R. Lopez, S. Willoughby, and J. Bailey. "Sunspot Science: Measuring the Frequency and Period of Sunspots." 2019.</a>

R. Vieyra, R. Lopez, S. Willoughby, and J. Bailey, , 2019, WWW Document, (https://www.compadre.org/Repository/document/ServeFile.cfm?ID=14987&DocID=5038).

R. Vieyra, R. Lopez, S. Willoughby, and J. Bailey, Sunspot Science: Measuring the Frequency and Period of Sunspots, 2019, <https://www.compadre.org/Repository/document/ServeFile.cfm?ID=14987&DocID=5038>.

Vieyra, R., Lopez, R., Willoughby, S., & Bailey, J. (2019). Sunspot Science: Measuring the Frequency and Period of Sunspots. Retrieved July 24, 2024, from https://www.compadre.org/Repository/document/ServeFile.cfm?ID=14987&DocID=5038

Vieyra, R, R. Lopez, S. Willoughby, and J. Bailey. "Sunspot Science: Measuring the Frequency and Period of Sunspots." 2019. https://www.compadre.org/Repository/document/ServeFile.cfm?ID=14987&DocID=5038 (accessed 24 July 2024).

Vieyra, Rebecca E., Ramon Lopez, Shannon Willoughby, and Janelle Bailey. Sunspot Science: Measuring the Frequency and Period of Sunspots. 2019. 24 July 2024 <https://www.compadre.org/Repository/document/ServeFile.cfm?ID=14987&DocID=5038>.

@techreport{
Author = "Rebecca E. Vieyra and Ramon Lopez and Shannon Willoughby and Janelle Bailey",
Title = {Sunspot Science: Measuring the Frequency and Period of Sunspots},
Month = {March},
Year = {2019}
}

%A Rebecca E. Vieyra %A Ramon Lopez %A Shannon Willoughby %A Janelle Bailey %T Sunspot Science: Measuring the Frequency and Period of Sunspots %D March 6, 2019 %U https://www.compadre.org/Repository/document/ServeFile.cfm?ID=14987&DocID=5038 %O application/pdf

%0 Report %A Vieyra, Rebecca E. %A Lopez, Ramon %A Willoughby, Shannon %A Bailey, Janelle %D March 6, 2019 %T Sunspot Science: Measuring the Frequency and Period of Sunspots %8 March 6, 2019 %U https://www.compadre.org/Repository/document/ServeFile.cfm?ID=14987&DocID=5038

Disclaimer: ComPADRE offers citation styles as a guide only. We cannot offer interpretations about citations as this is an automated procedure. Please refer to the style manuals in the Citation Source Information area for clarifications.