Solar Physics

, Volume 138, Issue 2, pp 387–397 | Cite as

A new look at wolf sunspot numbers in the late 1700's

  • Douglas V. Hoyt
  • Kenneth H. Schatten


Long-term homogeneous observations of solar activity or many solar cycles are essential for investigating many problems in solar physics and climatology. The one key parameter used in most long-term studies is the Wolf sunspot number, which is susceptible to observer bias, particularly because it is highly sensitive to the observer's ability to see the smallest sunspots. In this paper we show how the Wolf sunspot number can be derived from the number of sunspot groups alone. We utilize this approach to obtain a ‘Group Wolf number’. This technique has advantages over the classical method of determining the Wolf number because corrections for observer differences are reduced and long-term self-consistent time series can be developed. The level of activity can be calculated to an accuracy of ± 5% using this method. Applying the technique to Christian Horrebow's observations of solar cycles 1, 2, and 3 (1761–1777), we find that the standard Wolf numbers are nearly homogeneous with sunspot numbers measured from 1875 to 1976 except the peak of solar cycle 2 is too low by 30%. This result suggests that further analyses of early sunspot observations could lead to significant improvements in the uniformity of the measurements of solar activity. Such improvements could have important impacts upon our understanding of long-term variations in solar activity, such as the Gleissberg cycle, or secular variations in the Earth's climate.


Solar Activity Solar Cycle Classical Method Important Impact Sunspot Number 
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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • Douglas V. Hoyt
    • 1
  • Kenneth H. Schatten
    • 2
  1. 1.Research and Data Systems, Corp.GreenbeltU.S.A.
  2. 2.Laboratory for Atmospheres, NASA/Goddard Space Flight CenterGreenbeltU.S.A.

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