Let’s meet the Sun!

NASA's SDO Sees a Solar Flare and a Lunar TransitCreative Commons License

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center via Compfight

In this session we will start to investigate our first two questions –

  1. Do the Sun’s natural cycles affect our climate?
  2. What is solar radiation?

What should I be able to do at the end of investigating these questions? I should be able t0 …

  1. Describe and interpret different data sets.
  2. Interpret secondary data displays in digital media.
  3. Understand what the mean (average) of data is.
  4. Understand that the Earth is part of a system of planets orbiting around a star (the sun).
  5. Understand that Science involves testing predictions by gathering data and using evidence to develop explanations of events and phenomena.
  6. Explain at least two ways that the Sun affects planet Earth.


Pumbaa: Hey, Timon, ever wonder what those sparkly dots are up there?

Timon: Pumbaa, I don’t wonder; I know.

Pumbaa: Oh. What are they?

Timon: They’re fireflies. Fireflies that, uh… got stuck up on that big bluish-black thing.

Pumbaa: Oh, gee. I always thought they were balls of gas burning billions of miles away.

Timon: Pumbaa, with you, everything’s gas.

Let’s take a crash course in what the Sun is!

The Sun is the nearest star to Earth. It has a diameter of approximately 1390000 km, has a mass of 1.989 x 1030kg and a surface temperature of 5800K (that’s  about 5500oC!). If you want to know some more information then a useful website is The Nine Planets.

One thing we do know is that the Sun is emitting energy in many different forms. Let’s go and see what the SOHO satellite can show us.

In this session we are going to investigate one aspect of the Sun’s energy – solar flares. Solar flares are the biggest explosions in the the solar system. They occur when magnetic energy that builds up in the solar atmosphere is suddenly released.

However, let’s first go outside and see what information we can gather about the Sun.

What were some of the features that you noticed?

Analysing Solar Flare Data.

We will be using the SOHO CME (coronal mass ejection) catalog to collect out raw data. Choose your birth month for a period of when you were born up until 2014. Open each year in turn and count how many CME’s occurred during the month. Input this data into an Excel spreadsheet. Complete this for each year.

When setting up your Excel make sure that you include appropriate column headings. Check your data with someone who was born in the same month as you.

Select the Year and Number columns and all of the data. Place this into a chart. Think carefully about the type of chart that would be appropriate. When you have created the chart what other things do you need to include? If you are not sure then check the chart example on the back display board. Remember to move your chart to a new page when you have finished the graph.

In your spreadsheet include a cell at the bottom of your data and type ‘Average’ in the Year column. In the cell to the right of this (which should be directly under the Number data) we are going to calculate the average number of CME’s each month.

How do we calculate the average? Remember that you add all of your data values and divide it by how many data values you have. If you were born in 2003 and your data went up to 2014, then 2014 – 2003 = 11, so you would divide the total by 11.

We know that in Excel we can have the math done for us. Place your cursor inn the cell I mentioned before. Then …

          click the equals button

          type average

          type (

          select the data in the Number column

          type )

          then click ‘enter’

What was the average number of CME’s during that period of time? Go back to your graph and insert a line at your average data value.

Can you notice any patterns in the number of CME’s over the time period?

In general the Sun goes through a regular solar cycle approximately every 11 years. Based on your graph, predict when the next solar maximum and solar minimum will occur.

Using the Internet and the material provided, answer the following questions. Write your answers onto a page in your blog. Name the page “Cloudy with a chance or warming”

  1. What are some forms of electromagnetic radiation emitted by the Sun?
  2. When do solar flares occur on the Sun?
  3. How do solar flares have a direct effect on the Earth’s atmosphere?
  4. Why is it important to track solar storms as they approach Earth?

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