New SAT Reading Practice Test 33: Sunspots Passage

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Sunspots Passage

Sunspots are relatively cool areas on the surface
of the sun, formed by changes in the sun's magnetic
field. The sun's surface is very hot, approximately
10,000°F, while the center of a sunspot is compara-
05tively cool at about 6,000°F. Scientists do not know
exactly what causes sunspots, but the magnetic
field within a sunspot is about 100 times stronger
than it is on the rest of the sun's surface. Normally,
hot gases flow from the interior of the sun to the
10surface, maintaining the high temperature. Within
a sunspot, however, the concentrated magnetic field
inhibits the movement of the gases, causing the
surface of the sunspot to cool.
Galileo and other astronomers started recording
15the sunspots they viewed through telescopes in the
early 1600s, although sunspots had been observed
and recorded without telescopes for over 2,000 years.
When another astronomer, Samuel Schwabe,
plotted the number of sunspots recorded each year,
20he found that the number increased and decreased
in a cyclic pattern. Approximately every 11 years,
the number of sunspots reaches a maximum. A
graph of sunspots over the years has a fairly regular
pattern of peaks and valleys, with about 11 years
25between peaks. Most recently, the sunspot cycle
peaked around the middle of 2013, and it will reach
its nadir around 2020.
Scientists use the 11-year cycle to predict solar
flares, which cause changes in Earth's atmosphere.
30When two or more sunspots having magnetic
fields with opposite directions are near each other,
the magnetic fields can interact with plasma on
the surface between the sunspots. The interaction
between the fields sends a burst of plasma away
35from the surface, forming the solar flare. The
flares quickly heat to several million degrees
and release as much energy as several hundred
million atomic bombs. Strong magnetic fields and
x-rays travel from the flares to Earth, resulting in
40geomagnetic storms. If these storms are strong
enough, they have the potential to disrupt power
and radio communications on Earth. Satellites
are particularly susceptible to disruption by solar
flares, thus causing interference with GPS, weather
45prediction, and mobile phone communication. A
positive effect of these storms is that the increased
energy and plasma particles interact with Earth's
atmosphere, enhancing the auroras, also known as
the Northern (and Southern) Lights.
50Sunspots do not always follow the 11-year solar
cycle; there was almost no sunspot activity between
around 1645 and 1715. This minimum, which was
named the Maunder Minimum after the husband
and wife team who discovered patterns in the
55location of sunspots during the 11-year solar cycle,
occurred during a period of lower-than-normal
global temperatures known as the Little Ice Age.
Scientists mostly agree that the lack of sunspot
activity did not contribute very much, if at all, to
60the lowered temperatures.
Sunspot activity has been decreasing during the
last few cycles, and it is possible we will see another
minimum in the next 20 years. The strength of
the magnetic field in the sunspots also seems to
65be diminishing, which could be another sign of
a minimum in our future. If we do experience a
minimum, scientists will be able to learn more
about the effect of sunspots on Earth's climate, in
addition to learning more about the sun, its surface,
70and its magnetic fields.

1. The central idea of this passage is primarily concerned with

  • A. how solar activity can affect the climate on Earth.
  • B. the history of methods used by astronomers to study the sun.
  • C. scientists' current understanding of sunspots and solar flares.
  • D. the 11-year cycle of solar flare activity.

2. Which choice provides the best evidence for the answer to the previous question?

  • A. Lines 5-10 ("Scientists … high temperature")
  • B. Lines 14-17 ("Galileo … years")
  • C. Lines 50-52 ("Sunspots do not … 1715")
  • D. Lines 58-60 ("Scientists mostly agree … temperatures")

3. The author refers to the enhanced auroras resulting from solar flares mostly to

  • A. provide contrast with the negative effects of solar flares described.
  • B. illustrate the powerful effects of solar flares on Earth's atmosphere.
  • C. suggest that solar flares might cause more damage than previously believed.
  • D. give an example of how the solar flares affect Earth's climate.

4. Which choice best describes what scientists currently understand about how solar flare activity affects the Earth?

  • A. Low solar flare activity can cause lower temperatures on Earth.
  • B. High solar flare activity can lead to disruptions of communication on Earth.
  • C. Low solar flare activity can cause an enhancement of the auroras on Earth.
  • D. High solar flare activity can lead to increased severe weather on Earth.

5. Which of the following pieces of evidence would most strengthen the author's line of reasoning?

  • A. Details added to paragraph 1 about features other than sunspots on the sun's surface and how they affect Earth
  • B. Information added to paragraph 2 about how astronomers Galileo and Schwabe made their observations
  • C. Examples in paragraph 3 of problems caused by disruption to communication caused by solar flares
  • D. Examples in paragraph 5 of other periods in history during which the sun exhibited a decrease in observed sunspot activity

6. As used in line 34, "burst" most nearly means

  • A. breach.
  • B. eruption.
  • C. force.
  • D. fracture.

7. The passage most strongly suggests that which of the following statements is accurate?

  • A. Although scientists have observed patterns in sunspot activity, it is not always possible to predict when sunspot activity will occur.
  • B. Scientists will not be able to solve the mystery of what causes sunspots until technology allows astronauts to travel to the sun.
  • C. Unless scientists find a way to control sunspot activity, radio and satellite communication on Earth will continue to be interrupted.
  • D. The next minimum could interfere with weather prediction and cause drastic changes in the climate on Earth.

8. Which choice provides the best evidence for the answer to the previous question?

  • A. Lines 18-21 ("When another … pattern")
  • B. Lines 33-35 ("The interaction … flare")
  • C. Lines 50-51 ("Sunspots … cycle")
  • D. Lines 66-70 ("If we … fields")

9. As used in line 48, "enhancing" most nearly means

  • A. developing.
  • B. enlarging.
  • C. improving.
  • D. intensifying.

10. Which lines from the passage are supported by the evidence in the graphic?

  • A. Lines 14-16 ("Galileo … early 1600s")
  • B. Lines 25-27 ("Most recently … 2020")
  • C. Lines 51-52 ("there was … 1715")
  • D. Lines 61-63 ("Sunspot activity … 20 years")