The Statistics of Sunspots

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Author: Barry Eitel

Grade Level:

High School


Astronomy, Mathematics, Computer Science


This experiment will explore how manipulating a graph of historical information might reveal new information about data.

Research Questions:

-Is there a cycle to the rise and decay of sunspots?

-How do sunspots behave over time?


Sunspots are disturbed areas of the sun that look like spots because they are cooler than the surface of the sun. They have been observed and recorded since the 18th Century. This large collection of data can be used to look for patterns and possible equations to how sunspots work.


  • Computer
  • Spreadsheet software

Experimental Procedure:

  1. Search for the historical sunspot data online. Put this information (or at least several decades) into a spreadsheet, with one column being dates and the other being the sunspot number recorded.
  2. Use the program to make a graph of this data.
  3. Look for potential patterns. A cycle should appear, one that recurs about every 11 years. Note the values for the start, finish, and peak of each cycle. Compare the numbers for different cycles.
  4. Using the spreadsheet or a graphing calculator, see if an equation can be derived for individual cycles. Manipulating the scale and axis of the graph might clarify the data.
  5. Analyze this new data. Do sunspots follow mathematical principles?

 Concepts: statistics, sunspots, derivatives 

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