“Solar Impact,” the cover feature story of the March 2009 issue of Sky & Telescope, won the 2010 American Astronomical Society Solar Physics Division Award for Popular Writing for “carefully and thoroughly summariz[ing] the scientific understanding of how the Sun influences the Earth’s climate, with reader-friendly writing, illustrations, and pictures.”
From Earth, the Sun appears as a smooth, glowing disk, its intense shine warming our planet. But if we could float just above that scorching orb, we would see a seething cauldron of gigantic bubbles. In the churning sea of 10,000 degrees F gas, dark eddies materialize, lasting for hours to months, and appear to slowly rotate across the Sun.
Through filtered telescopes and sometimes without magnification, these sunspots look like splatters of ink against the pale disk. More than just a cosmetic disturbance, the waxing and waning of the spots signal that the Sun’s chaotic moods may influence Earth’s climate.