Solar Physics

, Volume 137, Issue 1, pp 51–65 | Cite as

The growth and decay of sunspot groups

  • Robert F. Howard


Digitized Mount Wilson sunspot data from 1917 to 1985 are analyzed to examine the growth and decay rates of sunspot group umbral areas. These rates are distributed roughly symmetrically about a median rate of decay of a few μhemisphere day-1. Percentage area change rates average 502% day-1 for growing groups and -45% day-1 for decaying groups. These values are significantly higher than the comparable rates for plage magnetic fields because spot groups have shorter lifetimes than do plages. The distribution of percentage decay rates also differs from that of plage magnetic fields. Small spot groups grow at faster rates on average than they decay, and large spot groups decay on average at faster rates than they grow. Near solar minimum there is a marked decrease in daily percentage spot area growth rates. This decrease is not related to group area, nor is it due to latitude effects. Sunspot groups with rotation rates close to the average (for each latitude) have markedly slower average rates of daily group growth and decay than do those groups with rotation rates faster or slower than the average. Similarly, sunspot groups with latitude drift rates near zero have markedly slower average rates of daily group growth and decay than do groups with significant latitude drifts in either direction. Both of these findings are similar to results for plage magnetic fields. These various correlations are discussed in the light of our views of the connection of the magnetic fields of spot groups to subsurface magnetic flux tubes. It is suggested that a factor in the rates of growth or decay of spot groups and plages may be the inclination angle to the vertical of the magnetic fields of the spots or plages. Larger inclination angles may result in faster growth and decay rates.


Inclination Angle Flux Tube Drift Rate Sunspot Group Magnetic Flux Tube 
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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert F. Howard
    • 1
  1. 1.National Solar Observatory, National Optical Astronomy ObservatoriesTucsonUSA

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