A Semi-Automatic Method to Measure the Rotation of Sunspots

Brown, Daniel Stephen orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-1618-8816 and Walker, Andrew (2021) A Semi-Automatic Method to Measure the Rotation of Sunspots. Solar Physics, 296 (48). ISSN 0038-0938

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Official URL: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11207-021-01787-4


Sunspots have been observed to undergo rotation about their umbral centre. This is typically a slow rotation, with even the fastest sunspot rotations only reaching angular velocities of a few degrees per hour. This rotation may inject magnetic energy into the Sun’s atmosphere, which can be stored in the coronal magnetic field and later released in eruptive events such as solar flares and coronal mass ejections. To usefully investigate rotating sunspots long periods of data need to be analysed, often of the order of several days, to build up a bulk rotation profile for the sunspot over time. This article outlines a semiautomated approach to analysing series of solar continuum data to extract the rotation profile of a sunspot as it transits across the solar disc. Moving towards an automated approach is vital for generating large, unbiased statistical samples of rotating sunspots in order to understand their contribution to solar activity. Existing methods typically focus on sunspots near disc centre for short time periods, neglecting much of the rotation history of the sunspot. The method is tested on six sunspots observed in continuum data from the Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager (HMI) instrument on board the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). These have been chosen to test the method for a range of different types of sunspot, including well-behaved sunspots, shape-changing sunspots, fast rotators, non-rotators, and interacting sunspots. The rotation profiles are compared by eye to animations of the sunspot from the data and are in acceptable visual agreement with the observed bulk rotation of the sunspot for all of the cases, except for the one which contains two sunspots in a shared penumbra. The method is also tested against sunspot rotations in active region (AR) 11158 that have been reported in the literature. While the results compare to some degree, the method outlined in this article reports lower rotations than those reported in the literature. Some of this discrepancy can be attributed to selection bias by the approaches in the literature, where only features that undergo larger rotation are tracked in sunspots that exhibit non-uniform rotation. The method also provides uncertainties on the calculated rotation profile which can be broken down to allow the principle sources of error to be identified. For the test sunspots in this article, the dominant source of uncertainty is the resolution of the SDO/HMI instrument.

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