First photograph of a sunspot, 2nd April 1846.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
Photograph by French physicists Armand Hippolyte Louis Fizeau and Jean Bernard Leon Foucault. Plate XII from 'Popular Astronomy' (1855) by Dominique Francois Jean Arago. Sunspots are relatively cool areas on the Sun's surface, the photosphere. Their temperature is about 3800 degrees Kelvin, as opposed to around 5800 degrees on the rest of the photosphere, and they can measure as much as 50,000 kilometres acros. The number of sunspots is greatest at the point in the cycle of solar activity known as the 'solar maximum', which occurs roughly every 11 years. They form when magnetic field lines below the surface become twisted and protrude through the photosphere. Sunspots are closely asociated with the occurrence of solar flares.