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These two pictures show sunspots on the Sun in 2001 (top) and 2003 (bottom). Sunspots only form near the Sun's equator and are never seen near the Sun's poles.
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Images courtesy of SOHO/NASA/ESA.

The Sun's Poles

Like Earth, the Sun has a North Pole, a South Pole, and an equator. The poles of the Sun are different in several ways from the areas near the Sun's equator.

The Sun has a magnetic field with North and South Magnetic Poles. About every 11 years, the Sun's magnetic poles flip - North becomes South and vice versa. This flip happens around the peak of the sunspot cycle, when there are lots of sunspots. Earth's magnetic poles sometimes flip, too. However, it is usually many thousands or even millions of years between flips of Earth's field - not just 11 years!

Did you know that the Sun has spots? Sunspots are places on the "surface" of the Sun where the magnetic field is much, much stronger than normal. Sunspots only appear near the Sun's equator, between about 40° North and 40° South latitude. Sunspots never appear near the Sun's poles.

The Sun is not a solid object. It is giant ball of gas and plasma. Some parts of the Sun rotate more slowly than other parts. At the equator, the Sun spins pretty fast. It takes 25 days to turn all the way around. It turns more slowly at the poles. The poles take 34 days to spin around once.

The Sun's atmosphere at the poles is also different from the atmosphere above the Sun's equator. The corona, part of the Sun's atmosphere, sticks out further from the Sun's surface near the equator. The corona doesn't stick out as far above the poles. The solar wind is also different at the poles. It "blows" much faster above the poles than it does above the Sun's equator.

Last modified June 11, 2009 by Randy Russell.

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