Identifying the Beginnings and Ends of Solar Cycles

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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

HAO scientist's Mausumi Dikpati, Peter Gilman, Giuliana de Toma, and UCLA professor Roger Ulrich find that the latitude at which plasma sinking occurs is very important. LiveScience.

Simulations of the conditions below the sun's surface image
Simulations of the conditions below the sun's surface yielded this two-dimensional map of a cycle-period for the solar dynamo, the physical process that generates the sun's magnetic field. The thick, continuous white line denotes the 11-year-cycle period. Thin white lines are other periods in half-year intervals and the horizontal broken line marks the maximum magnetic flux. Solar cycles 22 and 23 in this map are semi-transparent gray patches. Credit: Mausumi Dikpati and UCAR.

A limited number of instruments can tell us about our planet's star: Our knowledge of solar cycles comes from Earth-based satellites and telescopes and theoretical models of solar phenomena based on the laws of physics.

One region of the sun is benefitting from such a combination of observational and theoretical techniques: The solar convection zone, where sunspots are born. They are then expressed at the solar surface throughout solar cycles.

The convection zone occupies the outer 30 percent of the solar interior, and the activity and characteristics of its various sunspots help scientists identify the beginnings and ends of solar cycles, as well as gain insights into the solar 'dynamo' — the physical process that generates the sun's magnetic field.