Weather in Space

Sunspots and Solar Activity

What is a sunspot?

Sunspots, when viewed by visible light, appear as dark blemishes on the Sun. Most sunspots have two physical components: the umbra, which is a smaller, dark, featureless core, and the penumbra, which is a large, lighter surrounding region. Within the penumbra are delicate-looking filaments that extend outward like spokes on a bicycle wheel. Sunspots vary in size and tend to be clustered in groups; many of them far exceed the size of our planet and could easily swallow Earth whole.

Sunspots are the sites of incredibly powerful, magnetically driven phenomena. Even though they look calm and quiet in visible light, pictures of sunspots taken in ultraviolet light and in X-rays clearly show the tremendous energy they produce and release, as well as the powerful magnetic fields that permeate and surround them.


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