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Warnings: The True Story of How Science Tamed the Weather by Mike Smith tells the story of our storm warning system. See our online store book collection.
A graph of sunspot numbers from 1700 through 1993, showing the 11-year sunspot cycle.
Click on image for full size
Image courtesy NOAA/NGDC.

Space Weather: Quiet vs. Active Times

We tend to think of the Sun as unchanging. In some ways it is! The Sun rises every morning and sets every night. The amount of light it shines on Earth is very stable from day to day and even over the course of many, many years. But, some things do change about the Sun.

The number and placement of sunspots on the face of the Sun changes over time. The number of sunspots tells us roughly how active the Sun will be. Lots of sunspots means the Sun will be very active and stormy. That means solar flares and CMEs. Very few sunspots means the Sun will be calm. How active the Sun is does affect life here on Earth.

The Sun, like all stars, has changed over the course of its very long life. When it was younger, the Sun was more active then it is now. The Sun has also gotten brighter over its lifetime.

You can go to bed tonight knowing the Sun will rise in the morning. Remember, though, that tomorrow's Sun will be a tad different that the one that sets tonight!

Last modified September 5, 2008 by Randy Russell.

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Our online store includes fun classroom activities for you and your students. Issues of NESTA's quarterly journal, The Earth Scientist are also full of classroom activities on different topics in Earth and space science!

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA