A new look at sunspots — ScienceDaily


NASA’s extensive fleet of spacecraft allows scientists to study the Sun extremely close-up — one of the agency’s spacecraft is even on its way to fly through the Sun’s outer atmosphere. But sometimes taking a step back can provide new insight.

In a new study, scientists looked at sunspots — darkened patches on the Sun caused by its magnetic field — at low resolution as if they were trillions of miles away. What resulted was a simulated view of distant stars, which can help us understand stellar activity and the conditions for life on planets orbiting other stars.

“We wanted to know what a sunspot region would look like if we couldn’t resolve it in an image,” said Shin Toriumi, lead author on the new study and scientist at ?the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science at JAXA. “So, we used the solar data as if it came from a distant star to have a better connection between solar physics and stellar physics.”

Sunspots are often precursors to solar flares — intense outbursts of energy from the surface of the Sun — so monitoring sunspots is important to understanding why and how flares occur. Additionally, understanding the frequency of flares on other stars is one of the keys to understanding their chance of harboring life. Having a few flares may help build up complex molecules like RNA and DNA from simpler building blocks. But too many strong flares can strip entire atmospheres, rendering a planet uninhabitable.

To see what a sunspot and its effect on the solar atmosphere would look like on a distant star, the scientists started with high-resolution data of the Sun from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory and JAXA/NASA’s Hinode mission. By adding up all the light in each image, the scientists converted the high-resolution images into single