Starspots are stellar phenomena, so-named by analogy with sunspots. Spots as small as sunspots have not been detected on other stars, as they would cause undetectably small fluctuations in brightness. The commonly observed starspots are in general much larger than those on the Sun: up to about 30% of the stellar surface may be covered, corresponding to starspots 100 times larger than those on the Sun.

Detection and measurementsEdit

To detect and measure the extent of starspots one uses several types of methods.

  • For rapidly rotating stars – Doppler imaging and Zeeman-Doppler imaging.[1] With the Zeeman-Doppler imaging technique the direction of the magnetic field on stars can be determined since spectral lines are split according to the Zeeman effect, revealing the direction and magnitude of the field.
  • For slowly rotating stars – Line Depth Ratio (LDR). Here one measures two different spectral lines, one sensitive to temperature and one which is not. Since starspots have a lower temperature than their surroundings the temperature-sensitive line changes its depth. From the difference between these two lines the temperature and size of the spot can be calculated, with a temperature accuracy of 10K.
  • For eclipsing binary stars – Eclipse mapping produces images and maps of spots on both stars.[2]
  • For giant binary stars - Very-long-baseline interferometry[3][4]
  • For stars with transiting extrasolar planets – Light curve variations.[5]


Observed starspots have a temperature which is in general 500–2000 kelvins cooler than the stellar photosphere. This temperature difference could give rise to a brightness variation up to 0.6 magnitudes between the spot and the surrounding surface. There also seems to be a relation between the spot temperature and the temperature for the stellar photosphere, indicating that starspots behave similarly for different types of stars (observed in G–K dwarfs).


The lifetime for a starspot depends on its size.

  • For small spots the lifetime is proportional to their size, similar to spots on the Sun.[6]
  • For large spots the sizes depend on the differential rotation of the star, but there are some indications that large spots which give rise to light variations can survive for many years even in stars with differential rotation.[6]

Activity cyclesEdit

The distribution of starspots across the stellar surface varies analogous to the solar case, but differs for different types of stars, e.g., depending on whether the star is a binary or not. The same type of activity cycles that are found for the Sun can be seen for other stars, corresponding to the solar (2 times) 11-year cycle.

Maunder minimumEdit

Some stars may have longer cycles, possibly analogous to the Maunder minima for the Sun which lasted 70 years, for example some Maunder minimum candidates are 51 Pegasi,[7] HD 4915[8] and HD 166620.[9][10]

Flip-flop cyclesEdit

Another activity cycle is the so-called flip-flop cycle, which implies that the activity on either hemisphere shifts from one side to the other. The same phenomena can be seen on the Sun, with periods of 3.8 and 3.65 years for the northern and southern hemispheres. Flip-flop phenomena are observed for both binary RS CVn stars and single stars although the extent of the cycles are different between binary and singular stars.


  1. ^ Cameron 2008
  2. ^ Cameron 2008. Eclipse movies show spots on two imaged binaries
  3. ^ Parks J, et al. (24 May 2021). "Interferometric Imaging of λ Andromedae: Evidence of Starspots and Rotation". The Astrophysical Journal. 913 (1): 54. Bibcode:2021ApJ...913...54P. doi:10.3847/1538-4357/abb670. S2CID 235286160.
  4. ^ Konchady T (23 June 2021). "Searching for Spots with Interferometry". AASnova.
  5. ^ Sanchis-Ojeda, Roberto; Winn, Joshua N.; Marcy, Geoffrey W.; et al. (2013). "Kepler-63b: A Giant Planet in a Polar Orbit Around a Young Sun-like Star". The Astrophysical Journal. 775 (1): 54. arXiv:1307.8128. Bibcode:2013ApJ...775...54S. doi:10.1088/0004-637X/775/1/54. ISSN 0004-637X. S2CID 36615256.
  6. ^ a b Berdyugina 5.3 Lifetimes
  7. ^ Poppenhäger, K.; Robrade, J.; Schmitt, J. H. M. M.; Hall, J. C. (2009-12-01). "51 Pegasi – a planet-bearing Maunder minimum candidate". Astronomy & Astrophysics. 508 (3): 1417–1421. arXiv:0911.4862. Bibcode:2009A&A...508.1417P. doi:10.1051/0004-6361/200912945. ISSN 0004-6361. S2CID 118626420.
  8. ^ Shah, Shivani P.; Wright, Jason T.; Isaacson, Howard; Howard, Andrew; Curtis, Jason L. (2018-08-16). "HD 4915: A Maunder Minimum Candidate". The Astrophysical Journal. 863 (2): L26. arXiv:1801.09650. Bibcode:2018ApJ...863L..26S. doi:10.3847/2041-8213/aad40c. ISSN 2041-8213. S2CID 119358595.
  9. ^ Baum, Anna C.; Wright, Jason T.; Luhn, Jacob K.; Isaacson, Howard (2022-04-01). "Five Decades of Chromospheric Activity in 59 Sun-like Stars and New Maunder Minimum Candidate HD 166620". The Astronomical Journal. 163 (4): 183. arXiv:2203.13376. Bibcode:2022AJ....163..183B. doi:10.3847/1538-3881/ac5683. ISSN 0004-6256. S2CID 247613714.
  10. ^ "Astronomers see star enter a 'Maunder Minimum' for the first time". Physics World. 2022-04-05. Retrieved 2022-04-06.


  • Cameron, Andrew Collier. "Mapping starspots and magnetic fields on cool stars". University of St Andrews. Retrieved 2008-08-28. (explains how Doppler imaging works)
  • Berdyugina, Svetlana V. (2005). "Starspots: A Key to the Stellar Dynamo". Living Reviews in Solar Physics. Institute of Astronomy ETHZ, Max Planck Society. 2 (8): 8. Bibcode:2005LRSP....2....8B. doi:10.12942/lrsp-2005-8. S2CID 54791515. Retrieved 2008-08-28.
  • K. G. Strassmeier (1997), Aktive Sterne. Laboratorien der solaren Astrophysik, Springer, ISBN 3-211-83005-7

Further readingEdit

  • Strassmeir, Klaus G. (September 2009). "Starspots". The Astronomy and Astrophysics Review. 17 (3): 251–308. Bibcode:2009A&ARv..17..251S. doi:10.1007/s00159-009-0020-6.