Amateur Sunspotters Help Predict Solar Flares

Sunspots on Friday the 13th.  Credit: SDO/HMI

Sunspots on Friday the 13th. Credit: SDO/HMI

Science crowdsourcing service Zooniverse announced its latest project. The Sunspotter project asks you to decide which of two groups of sunspots is more complex. Heliophysicists - scientists who study the Sun - need a way to measure the complexity of sunspot groups. The more complex a group is, the more solar flares it produces. Understanding how that happens will help produce better forecasts of space weather and improve solar science.

Since computers have a hard time figuring it out, the scientist turned to the amateur space explorers at Zooniverse. You will help build a record of how sunspot groups get more complex over time and whether there’s a tipping point that triggers solar flares.

Paul Higgins, the project’s lead scientist, presented results of Sunspotter’s trial run at last week’s American Astrophysical Society Meeting. You can read his presentation on FigShare. During the trial 1,600 amateur sunspotters produced 320,000 classifications of 13,000 sunspot groups.