Solar Physics

, 293:104 | Cite as

A Curious History of Sunspot Penumbrae: An Update

  • V. M. S. CarrascoEmail author
  • J. M. Vaquero
  • R. M. Trigo
  • M. C. Gallego


The ratio of penumbral to umbral area of sunspots is an important topic for solar and geophysical studies. Hathaway (Solar Phys.286, 347, 2013) found a curious behaviour in this parameter for small sunspot groups (areas smaller than 100 millionths of solar hemisphere, msh) using records from Royal Greenwich Observatory (RGO). Hathaway showed that the penumbra–umbra ratio decreased smoothly from more than 7 in 1905 to lower than 3 by 1930 and then increased to almost 8 in 1961. Thus, Hathaway proposed the existence of a secular variation in the penumbra–umbra area ratio. In order to confirm that secular variation, we employ data of the sunspot catalogue published by the Coimbra Astronomical Observatory (COI) for the period 1929 – 1941. Our results disagree with the penumbra–umbra ratio found by Hathaway for that period. However, the behaviour of this ratio for large (areas greater or equal than 100 msh) and small groups registered in COI during 1929 – 1941 is similar to data available from RGO for the periods 1874 – 1914 and 1950 – 1976. Nevertheless, while the average values and time evolution of the ratio in large groups are similar those for small groups according to the Coimbra data (1929 – 1941) it is not analogous for RGO data for the same period. We also found that the behaviour of the penumbra–umbra area ratio for smaller groups in both observatories is significantly different. The main difference between the area measurements made in Coimbra and RGO is associated with the umbra measurements. We would like to stress that the two observatories used different methods of observation and while in COI both methodology and instruments did not change during the study period, some changes were carried out in RGO that could have affected measurements of umbra and penumbra. These facts illustrate the importance of the careful recovery of past solar data.


Sunspots, statistics Sunspot, umbra Sunspot, penumbrae 



This work was partly funded by FEDER-Junta de Extremadura (Research Group Grant GR15137 and project IB16127) and from the Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad of the Spanish Government (AYA2014-57556-P and CGL2017-87917-P). The authors have benefited from the participation in the ISSI workshops.

Disclosure of Potential Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Departamento de FísicaUniversidad de ExtremaduraBadajozSpain
  2. 2.Departamento de FísicaUniversidad de ExtremaduraMéridaSpain
  3. 3.Instituto Universitario de Investigación del Agua, Cambio Climático y Sostenibilidad (IACYS)Universidad de ExtremaduraBadajozSpain
  4. 4.Instituto Dom Luiz (IDL), Faculdade de CiênciasUniversidade de LisboaLisboaPortugal

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