While the sun is being active recently and the high likelihood of it being busy for the next 18 months or so, a new theory on the formation of sunspots has come to light.
When the sun is in an active phase, there will be more sunspots observed.Spaceweather.com will let you know the daily sunspot number.
Anyways, the researchers at the University of Hawaii theory is that the formation of hydrogen molecules may decrease the pressure on certain areas of the sun's surface, allowing magnetic fields to form and intensify. When the magnetic fields strengthen, it inhibits the flow of heat onto a patch of the sun, causing it to darken and a sunspot is formed.
When the sun's surface cools just a bit (as what happens in a sunspot), two hydrogen atoms can bond together to form hydrogen molecules. Hydrogen molecules exert about half the pressure of the two atoms it used to be. And when the pressure decreases like this, the magnetic fields can further strengthen.
To test this theory, Sarah Jaeggli and her colleagues Haosheng Lin of the University of Hawaii at Manoa and Han Uitenbroek of the National Solar Observatory in Sunspot, New Mexico, observed the sun with the Dunn Solar Telescope at Sunspot, New Mexico.
While scientists cannot directly observe hydrogen molecules on the sun, they searched for the molecule hydroxyl, which contains one hydrogen atom and one oxygen atom. Because this molecule breaks up at a lower temperature than molecular hydrogen, the team knew that where hydroxyl is found, hydrogen molecules can also exist.
They found evidence that the concentration of hydroxl molecules is higher in the sunspots than the rest of the sun. Thus magnetic fields should be stronger, temperatures are lower and there are sunspots.