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Is there a relation between sunspot cycles and earthquakes

Is there a relation between sunspot cycles and earthquakes

Introduction: (Initial Observation)

The sun is the only viable source of energy in our solar system. All other types of energy such as wind and fossil based fuels are all resulted from solar energy. The sun is indeed the key, the main source and the ultimate cause of presence and survival of life on earth. Many environmental phenomena such as rain, tornados, and ocean waves are caused by solar energy.

Is it possible that earthquake are also caused by the sun? Observations of the sun’s surface shows a number of dark spots. The number of such spots and their position change during different months and years.

In this project you will investigate to see if there is any relation between the appearance or disappearance of sunspots and earthquakes. If such a correlation is identified, we can use it as an earthquake warning system.


If you have any questions, click on the help button at the top of this page to send me your questions. I may respond by email, but often I update this page with the information that you need.

Project Advisor

Information Gathering:

Find out about sunspots and earthquakes. Find resources for earthquake and sunspot data. Read books, magazines or ask professionals who might know in order to learn about the relation between sunspots and other natural phenomena such as auroras and earthquakes. Keep track of where you got your information from.

The following are samples of information that you may find online.

On 24th January 2001 an earth directed coronal mass was ejected which took two days to reach the earth’s surface and a major earthquake of magnitude 7.9 occurred in Gujarat, west coast of India. In the entire world, a total of 65 earthquakes have been reported on the same day .


Sunspots are huge magnetic field bundles that are shaped somewhat like a horseshoe magnet. These magnetic fields result in cooler, darker regions on the surface of the sun that we see as sunspots. As the number of sunspots increases during the sunspot cycle, so does the chance that the amount of radiation that the sun sends our way will increase. Sunspots are sources of a tremendous amounts of energy including solar flares, the most violent events in the solar system. In a matter of minutes, a large flare releases a million times more energy than the largest earthquake.

Sunspots and the resulting solar flares affect us, here on Earth. In fact, the more we learn about sunspots and solar flares, the greater their influence on Earth appears to be. Solar flares emit radiation that includes X-rays and ultraviolet rays, and charged particles called protons and electrons. This radiation surge may damage electrical power systems, interfere with telecommunications, wreck high-tech ship navigation systems, harm astronauts in space, or create the spectacular aurora (Northern and Southern lights).



A temporary disturbed area in the solar photosphere that appears dark because it is cooler than the surrounding areas. Sunspots consist of concentrations of strong magnetic flux. They usually occur in pairs or groups of opposite polarity that move in unison across the face of the Sun as it rotates.

Magnetic Field

A field of force that is generated by electric currents. The Sun’s average large-scale magnetic field, like that of the Earth, exhibits a north and a south pole linked by lines of magnetic force.

Solar Atmosphere

The atmosphere of the Sun. An atmosphere is generally the outermost gaseous layer of a planet, natural satellite, or star. Only bodies with a strong gravitational pull can retain an atmosphere. Atmosphere is used to describe the outer layer of the Sun because it is relatively transparent at visible wavelengths.

Question/ Purpose:

What do you want to find out? Write a statement that describes what you want to do. Use your observations and questions to write the statement.

The purpose of this project is to find out if there is any relation between sunspot cycles and earthquakes.

Identify Variables:

When you think you know what variables may be involved, think about ways to change one at a time. If you change more than one at a time, you will not know what variable is causing your observation. Sometimes variables are linked and work together to cause something. At first, try to choose variables that you think act independently of each other.

The independent variable is the concentration or population of sunspots in any specific period of time.

Dependent variable is the number of strong earthquakes in any specific period of time.

Controlled variable is the time period of this observation.

Alternatively you could select time as the independent variable and select both sunspots and earthquakes as dependent variables.


Based on your gathered information, make an educated guess about what types of things affect the system you are working with. Identifying variables is necessary before you can make a hypothesis. This is a sample hypothesis:

My hypothesis is that earthquakes and other extreme weather phenomena can be related to the suns activities especially sunspots. My hypothesis is based on my gathered information that sunspots indicate less heat, and less heat can be caused by a great heat loss. In other words heat from the surface of the sun is somehow radiated or converted to other types of energy such as electromagnetic energy. Finally, strong magnetic waves can force and displace inner earth material causing an earthquake.

Experiment Design:

Design an experiment to test each hypothesis. Make a step-by-step list of what you will do to answer each question. This list is called an experimental procedure. For an experiment to give answers you can trust, it must have a “control.” A control is an additional experimental trial or run. It is a separate experiment, done exactly like the others. The only difference is that no experimental variables are changed. A control is a neutral “reference point” for comparison that allows you to see what changing a variable does by comparing it to not changing anything. Dependable controls are sometimes very hard to develop. They can be the hardest part of a project. Without a control you cannot be sure that changing the variable causes your observations. A series of experiments that includes a control is called a “controlled experiment.”

Experiment/ Investigation procedures:

Introduction: Like many other meteorological and geological investigations, we are not able to manipulate events such as sunspots and earthquakes to discover any possible relations. Instead we can make observations, record data, and then analyze the data collected in a long period of time and look for any possible relations.

Procedure: Gather sunspot data and earthquake data from online resources. Enter the data in tables and make graphs of changes in sunspots and earthquake incidents for a certain period of time such as 30 years. Compare the graphs and look for possible relations. Note that you may need to gather your data from multiple sources. Some sources only provide earthquake data of a single country. The following is a sample data table:

Date Magnitude Location Duration (seconds)
January 9, 1857 7.8 Fort Tejon 130
……….. ……….. ………. …….

You will then compile the data to a simpler table like this:

Year Number of Earthquakes > 6 Richter

You will then use this table to draw a graph.

A similar set of data, tables, and graphs must be prepared for sunspots. You will then compare the earthquake graph with sunspot graph.

Hint: Only focus on data of strong earthquakes. Weak earthquakes occur every day with varieties of natural causes.

Where to find the data: Sunspot cycle data is gathered by NASA and is available online at NASA.GOV website. Another good source for sunspots is http://soho.estec.esa.nl/.

Earthquake data is gathered by USGA (US Geological Survey) and is available online at their website http://www.usgs.gov/themes/earthqk.html.

Some of the other websites with information and data about earthquake are:



Additional Experiments:

You may want to perform some additional experiments or activities related to your project. Two good activities are sun photography/observation and earthquake recording.

Sun photography/observation:

There are several ways you can observe the sun, and hopefully sunspots, for yourself. The easiest and safest is to project the sun by building your own pinhole camera. Or, if you have your own telescope, you will need to obtain a solar filter. There are even solar telescopes online, which you can access via the web to observe the Sun.

Pinhole Projector: A pinhole on a black paper or aluminum foil works as a lens that can produce an image of the sun on a white screen.

The following is a sample instruction for making the pinhole:

  1. Get a piece of cardboard about 20″ x 20″
  2. Make a hole in the center of the card board with a diameter of about 2″.
  3. Cover this hole with a piece of aluminum foil about 5″x5″. Use tapes to secure the foil.
  4. Use a number 10 needle to make a clean cut hole in the center of aluminum foil. Diameter of the hole will be about 1/16″.
  5. Hold the pinhole board on the sunlight so that the sun rays go trough the hole with a right angle.
  6. Hold a white board under the pinhole board so you will see the sun image. As you move the white board further away from the pinhole board, the image gets bigger. If you have a sunlight light beam entering a room, it will be much easier to see a clear image using this method.

Binocular Projector:

Use your binoculars or telescope like a slide projector.

Mount your binoculars or telescope on a camera tripod. Without a tripod, vibration of your hand will make it hard or impossible to get a clear image. You should never look trough a telescope or binoculars while aiming at the sun. Aim the binocular just by looking at its shadow. You should soon see an image of the sun projected on your screen. The screen can be a white cardboard.

By this method, you can observe the sun or look at a solar eclipse as well as view sun spots. You may even draw the solar spots or take pictures of the solar spots with a standard camera this way by picturing the projected image.

A blue cardboard with two holes mounted on the binocular creates additional shadow and makes the projected image more visible. For the best results, do this experiment indoors while the sun is shining through a window.

Make a Seismograph

With a few materials and some time, you can build your own seismograph model.

To do this activity…

You need to understand how a seismograph works. A typical seismograph works in a very simple way:

  • A heavy weight is fastened to a horizontal rod as shown in the diagram.
  • This rod hangs from a pole and is free to swing from side to side when the ground shakes.
  • At the other end of the rod (away from the pole) is an ink pen, and directly underneath the pen is a piece of paper rolled around a cylinder .
  • This cylinder rotates so that the pen continuously draws an ink line along the moving paper.

If the ground does not move, the rod does not swing, and the pen stays in place, so the ink line is smooth and straight. If the ground shakes, however, the row swings and so the pen draws a zigzag line as the paper turns. The stronger the shaking, the sharper the zigzags. This zigzag picture made on the paper roll is called a seismogram.

With some changes in the design, you can make a seismograph that records vertical movements of the ground.

Materials and Equipment:

List of material depends on the experiments that you choose to do.

Results of Experiment (Observation):

Experiments are often done in series. A series of experiments can be done by changing one variable a different amount each time. A series of experiments is made up of separate experimental “runs.” During each run you make a measurement of how much the variable affected the system under study. For each run, a different amount of change in the variable is used. This produces a different amount of response in the system. You measure this response, or record data, in a table for this purpose. This is considered “raw data” since it has not been processed or interpreted yet. When raw data gets processed mathematically, for example, it becomes results.

Data tables and graphs that you prepare are your experiment results.


If you perform any calculations, write them in this section of your report.

Summary of Results:

Summarize what happened. This can be in the form of a table of processed numerical data, or graphs. It could also be a written statement of what occurred during experiments.

It is from calculations using recorded data that tables and graphs are made. Studying tables and graphs, we can see trends that tell us how different variables cause our observations. Based on these trends, we can draw conclusions about the system under study. These conclusions help us confirm or deny our original hypothesis. Often, mathematical equations can be made from graphs. These equations allow us to predict how a change will affect the system without the need to do additional experiments. Advanced levels of experimental science rely heavily on graphical and mathematical analysis of data. At this level, science becomes even more interesting and powerful.


Using the trends in your experimental data and your experimental observations, try to answer your original questions. Is your hypothesis correct? Now is the time to pull together what happened, and assess the experiments you did.

Compare the dates of major earthquakes and the dates of sunspots and report if you see any relation.

Others have noticed that some earthquakes have happened at the same time period as sunspots and concluded that sunspots can potentially be one of the causes of the earthquakes.

Your conclusion may be different.

Related Questions & Answers:

What you have learned may allow you to answer other questions. Many questions are related. Several new questions may have occurred to you while doing experiments. You may now be able to understand or verify things that you discovered when gathering information for the project. Questions lead to more questions, which lead to additional hypothesis that need to be tested.

Possible Errors:

If you did not observe anything different than what happened with your control, the variable you changed may not affect the system you are investigating. If you did not observe a consistent, reproducible trend in your series of experimental runs there may be experimental errors affecting your results. The first thing to check is how you are making your measurements. Is the measurement method questionable or unreliable? Maybe you are reading a scale incorrectly, or maybe the measuring instrument is working erratically.

If you determine that experimental errors are influencing your results, carefully rethink the design of your experiments. Review each step of the procedure to find sources of potential errors. If possible, have a scientist review the procedure with you. Sometimes the designer of an experiment can miss the obvious.