Use the Zoom slider bar and click and drag the image until you can see the sunspot well

Observing Features on the Sun


Developed by Kendra Sibbernsen/MCC


Big Idea: The sun has surface features in different wavelengths and those features havepredictable patterns of movements that can be observed and described.


Goal:  Students will conduct a series of inquiries about the nature and motion of features in different wavelengths on the Sun using prescribed Internet applications that use current solar images.


Computer Setup:


Access –


Phase I:  Exploration



Make sure that you can see the full disk of the sun in the viewer.


Under the Time frame click the word latest next to the calendar.

What does the Date: read? {Fill in your answers with a different color of text.}

What does the Time: read? _____________________

What does the Time-step: read? ____________________

The time is listed in UTC. This is a standard coordinated universal time and used to be referred to as GMT (Greenwich mean time). Convert this time in UTC to your time zone. This website can help you with your conversion –

For example, to convert to Central Standard Time (CST), you subtract 6 hours.

What is the time of this latest image in your time zone? _____________________

How long ago was that image taken from your current time? _____________________






Under the Images frame, you can select from 4 satellite observatories: SOHO, SDO, STEREO-A and STEREO-B. Each of these has choices of Instrument, Detector, and Measurement (most of which is wavelength as measured in Angstroms).


Observatory: SDO

Instrument: AIA

Detector: AIA

Measurement: 4500

This is in the visible region of the electromagnetic spectrum.


How many sunspots do you see in this image? ________________


If you do not see any sunspots in your image, step the viewer back by a few days until you can find sunspots.


Use the Zoom slider bar and click and drag the image until you can see the sunspot well.


Click the Screenshot option at the top of the main viewing frame and select Full Viewport. Once you have downloaded your image, copy and paste it into the document below.




Phase II – Does the Evidence Match the Conclusion?


The diameter of the Sun is about 100 times the diameter of the Earth.


If a student proposed a generalization that “An average sunspot is approximately the width of 10 Earths,” would you agree or disagree with the generalization based on the evidence you collected?  Explain your reasoning and provide specific evidence either from the above questions or from evidence you yourself generate using Helioviewer.









Phase III – What Conclusions Can You Draw From the Evidence?


You can view two different wavelength images at the same time. For example, if one of the images was viewing:


Observatory: SDO

Instrument: AIA

Detector: AIA

Measurement: 4500


You can select [Add] and set the options to:


Observatory: SDO

Instrument: AIA

Detector: AIA

Measurement: 94


This is in the x-ray region of the electromagnetic spectrum. Having two images automatically sets each image’s opacity at half. You can move the slider bars back and forth to see one wavelength’s features more clearly. The colors you see for the different wavelengths are false-color to more easily distinguish between the images.


A student decided to look for a relationship between the size of a sunspot’s activity and the sizeof the accompanying x-ray activity and got the following data set. What conclusions and generalizations can you make from the following data collected by a student as measured size of the features using a ruler on the computer screen?  Explain your reasoning and provide specificevidence, with sketches if necessary, to support your reasoning.




X-ray (AIA 94)

Visible (AIA 4500)


34 mm

5 mm


38 mm

6 mm


18 mm

2 mm


11 mm

1 mm


15 mm

1 mm




Evidence-based Conclusion:







Phase IV – What Evidence Do You Need?



Using the Helioviewer, under the Images frame select:

Observatory: SDO

Instrument: AIA

Detector: AIA

Measurement: 94


If necessary, click center on the main viewing frame and zoom out so you can see the full disk of the Sun. You’re going to make a “movie” of these images. Select the Movieoption in the main viewer frame, and then select Full Viewport. Next, choose aDuration. The more days’ images you include, the longer the processing time will be (for example, choosing 28 days will result in a processing time of approximately 4 minutes).Click on the settings icon in the Movie Settings window (to the left of the ? on the top right) to see (and adjust, if you wish) the frames/second and the length of the video. Then click OK.


What is your Movie Duration? ______________ days


How many frames/second is your movie? _________________


While your movie is processing, you might want to take a few moments to look at theRecently Shared movies on YouTube and News.


Once your movie has processed, copy the link here (Note: you can save it as a Tiny URL):



Describe precisely what evidence you would need to collect in order to answer the research question of, “Over what precise period of time does it take an active region in the x-ray near the Sun’s equator to complete one rotation?


Create a detailed, step-by-step description of evidence that needs to be collected and a complete explanation of how this could be done—not just “look and see when the region returns to the same point,” but exactly what would someone need to do, step-by-step, toaccomplish this.  You might include a table and sketches-the goal is to be precise and detailed enough that someone else could follow your procedure. Note: You do not need toactually take this data.

Phase V – Formulate a Question, Pursue Evidence, and Justify Your Conclusion


Your task is design an answerable research question, propose a plan to pursue evidence, collect data using the Helioviewer, and create an evidence-based conclusion about some relationship between images of different wavelengths or changing position of a solar feature, which you have not completed before.


Research Report:



Specific Research Question: