Giant sunspot has doubled in size in 24 hours and is pointing at Earth
A huge sunspot that has doubled in size in just 24 hours is now facing Earth, meaning it could send a solar flare our way.
Sunspots they are dark areas on the sun’s surface that are associated with intense bursts of radiation. They appear dark because they are cooler than other parts of the sun’s surface.
Sunspots are relatively cool because they form over areas where the sun’s magnetic fields are particularly strong, so strong that they prevent some of the sun’s heat from reaching their surface
These tangled magnetic fields can sometimes suddenly rearrange themselves. When that happens, a sudden burst of light and radiation is ejected from the sun in the form of a solar flare.
The sunspot that has been growing in size recently is known as AR3038. Images from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory on Sunday show how the sunspot has evolved over the past day, twisting and contorting.
“Yesterday sunspot AR3038 was big. Today it’s huge,” reads the SpaceWeather.com website. “Fast-growing sunspot has doubled in size in just 24 hours.”
The magnetic field associated with the sunspot means that it could potentially send an M-class solar flare to Earth, the second strongest type. However, it is not known if this will be the case.
As of Monday morning, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) had not issued any solar flare warnings.
If strong enough, solar flares can cause disruptions on Earth, interfering with radio communication networks and navigation systems. This can cause problems for people who work in the maritime or aviation industries, among others.
That said, it’s worth noting that an M-class flare probably wouldn’t be particularly damaging in any case. Although M-class flares are the second strongest type of solar flare, they tend to only cause moderate radio blackout events. An M9 flare, the strongest of the M class, could cause loss of radio contact for tens of minutes in affected areas on Earth and degradation of low-frequency navigation signals. Class M flares are also common.
It is the less common class X flares that can cause more serious problems. Class X flares are the strongest type of flare. An X20 flare, for example, would cause a complete high-frequency radio blackout on the daylight side of Earth for several hours, and ships and planes would be unable to use navigational signals during this time.
Fortunately, such eruptions are very rare, estimated to occur less than once every 11 years, the length of an average solar cycle.