Tracking a Sunspot

(supervisor: Balázs Pintér)

Nature of project: data analysis, software

Available to full-time physicists or joint students.

Project description and methodology

Sunspots are windows for us through which we can have a two-dimensional glance into the complexity of the solar magnetic structure. Discovering their behaviour is a key element of understanding the physics of the Sun itself. The project aims at using and developing further a computer program code, written in IDL to read SDO/HMI optical data files and track a sunspot on the solar disc.

A successful project will develop beyond the above in one/some of the following directions:
Tracking sunspot pairs and looking for correlation between their dynamics

When considering where to take your project, please bear in mind the time available. It is preferable to do fewer things well than to try many and not get conclusive results on any of them. However, sometimes it is useful to have a couple of strands of investigation in parallel to work on in case delays occur.

Additional scope or challenge if taken as a Year-4 project: Searching for torsional oscillations of the selected sunspot


Looking for correlation between sunspot dynamics and nearby flares or other solar atmospheric events

Initial literature for students:

  1. Module PH38720 (Sun and Heliosphere)
  2. Phillips, K.J.H., 1992, Guide to the Sun, Cambridge [QB 521 P5] {Section 6.1, p.168-181}
  3. Hathaway, D.H., Choudhary, D.P., 2008, Sunspot Group Decay, Solar Physics (Online First)
  4. Curto, J.J., Blanca, M., Martnez, E., 2008, Automatic Sunspots Detection on Full-Disk Solar Images using Mathematical Morphology

Novelty, degree of difficulty and amount of assistance required

Sunspots have been intensively observed and analysed since the 17th century. Our knowledge of our star, however, is far from complete. The students will gain experience in comprehensive data analysis. The data sets and a software package (SolarSoftWare, SSW) to handle the data files are available via the web. The procedure of finding, downloading and processing data files from solar observations will have to be learnt. The data processing will require computational skills. Basic skills of programming in IDL is essential as the time for the project is not enough to learn IDL. The students can decide on which properties of the sunspot they would like to focus.

Project milestones and deliverables (including timescale)

milestoneto be completed by
Learning the physics of sunspotsend of October
Installing SSWChristmas
Downloading and visualising SDO/MHI images of the selected sunspotsend of February
Working out the methods for sunspot trackingmid-March