Solar Physics

, Volume 286, Issue 2, pp 347–356 | Cite as

A Curious History of Sunspot Penumbrae

  • D. H. HathawayEmail author


Daily records of sunspot group areas compiled by the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, from May of 1874 through 1976 indicate a curious history for the penumbral areas of the smaller sunspot groups. On average, the ratio of penumbral area to umbral area in a sunspot group increases from 5 to 6 as the total sunspot group area increases from 100 to 2000 μHem (a μHem is 10−6 the area of a solar hemisphere). This relationship does not vary substantially with sunspot group latitude or with the phase of the sunspot cycle. However, for the sunspot groups with total areas < 100 μHem, this ratio changes dramatically and systematically through this historical record. The ratio for these smallest sunspots is near 5.5 from 1874 to 1900. After a rapid rise to more than 7 in 1905, it drops smoothly to less than 3 by 1930 and then rises smoothly back to more than 7 in 1961. It then returns to near 5.5 from 1965 to 1976. The smooth variation from 1905 to 1961 shows no indication of any step-like changes that might be attributed to changes in equipment or personnel. The overall level of solar activity was increasing monotonically during this time period when the penumbra-to-umbra area ratio dropped to less than half its peak value and then returned. If this history can be confirmed by other observations (e.g. Mt. Wilson or Kodaikanal), it may impact our understanding of penumbra formation, our dynamo models, and our estimates of historical changes in the solar irradiance.


Active regions, structure Sunspots, penumbra Sunspots, statistics Sunspots, umbra 



The author thanks Lisa Upton for reviewing the paper and NASA for its support of this research through a grant from the Heliophysics Causes and Consequences of the Minimum of Solar Cycle 23/24 Program to NASA Marshall Space Flight Center. Comments by an anonymous referee led to significant improvements in the paper. Most importantly, the author thanks the American taxpayers for supporting scientific research in general and this research in particular.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media (outside the USA) 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.NASA Marshall Space Flight CenterHuntsvilleUSA

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