Here Comes the Sun

As does Earth, the sun has storms. Its storms, however, don't produce a deluge of precipitation. Instead, solar storms release awesome amounts of energy. At the end of last year, solar activity created a stream of radiation that got our attention. It damaged satellites and interfered with radio communication. It even caused a power outage in Sweden! However, the most immediate concern was protecting astronauts who might not be fully shielded by Earth's protective magnetic field. Although the low-orbit astronauts in the space station were not injured (they remained in radiation-protected shelters), the risk becomes critical when planning missions into interplanetary space.

By Michael DiSpezio|Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Making Waves

As you learned, solar radiation can interfere with earth-based radio communication. In this activity, you’ll explore ways in which interference might be blocked. Your interference source won’t be solar emissions, but electromagnetic waves produced by a nearby completed circuit.

AA-cell (standard)

Aluminum foil

AM radio



CAUTION: Use only a standard, non-rechargeable AA-battery. Although you’ll be shorting the battery for only a fraction of a second at a time, the paper clip and cell can heat up. If the circuit warms, give it time to cool. Otherwise, the heated battery or paper clip might cause burns.


1. What was the purpose of the paper clip? (It was a conducting material that completed a circuit from the battery’s positive to its negative terminal.)

2. How does the radio react to the completed circuit? (It produces static.)

3. Does a sheet of paper interfere with the radio signal? How can you tell? (No. The static is still generated when the circuit is complete.)

4. Does a sheet aluminum foil interfere with the signal? How can you tell? (Yes. The static volume decreases.) 


Observing the Sun



Never look directly at the sun. The powerful energy within its electromagnetic spectrum can quickly and permanently damage your vision. You can, however, observe a projection of this nearby star. Use a thumbtack to punch a hole in the center of a sheet of heavy stock paper. Hold the paper above another sheet of paper. You’ll notice a bright spot projected onto the lower paper sheet. Move the upper sheet up and down until the image becomes a crisp circle. Although it looks like a plain spot of light, the bright dot is actually an image of the sun. During times of high sunspot activity, you can use this technique to observe sunspots.



Math Connection

The sun is about 93 million away. If the X-rays created by solar activity travel at the velocity of light (186,000/second), how long will it take these emissions to reach our planet? (93,000,000/186 = 500 seconds = 8.3 minutes)



Animating Spots

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Cut out or copy the sequence of sunspot images illustrated on pages 64-64. Insert these images page-by-page into a book with crisp page edges. Make sure that your frames align at the corner edge of the book. Rapidly flip through the book pages. The stack of rapidly changing frames will appear as a fluid movement.  

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