Scientists have detected a fast-growing sunspot pointing directly at Earth and could launch an onslaught of solar energy our way in the next few days.
The sunspot, named AR3085 for the “active region” of the Sun in which he appeared, was barely a blip a few days ago. Now it has grown 10 times larger, turning into a pair of sunspots that are each almost the diameter of Earthaccording SpaceWeather.com. This little gif shows the evolution of the spot over about two days.
A number of solar flares – large bursts of electromagnetic radiation that break off the surface of the sun and shoot out into space – were detected “crackling” around the location, according to SpaceWeather. Fortunately, these are all current C-class flares, which fall within the weakest of the three solar flare levels tracked by government satellites. Class A, B, and C flares are generally too weak to have a noticeable impact on Earth. Class M flares are more powerful, capable of causing radio blackouts at high latitudes, while Class X flares are the most powerful and can cause widespread radio blackouts, damage satellites, and knock out power grids on the ground, according to Nasa.
If the spots continue to grow over the next few days, they could produce stronger flares that could head towards Earth, potentially endangering satellites and communications systems. For now, however, there is no imminent danger.
Sunspots are large, dark regions of strong magnetic fields that form on the surface of the sun. These regions – which are typically the width of planets – appear darker because they are cooler than their surroundings, according to the Live Science sister site. Espace.com. They form where the stripes of the sun magnetic field tangle and strain, preventing the flow of hot gas from the sun’s interior and forming cooler, darker regions on the sun’s surface.
These buildups of magnetic energy often lead to solar flares. The more sunspots that appear on the sun at any given time, the more likely solar flares are to erupt.
The prevalence of sunspots and sun flares is related to the sun’s 11-year activity cycle, which transitions between periods of high and low sunspot density approximately every ten years. The next solar maximum – or period of peak sunspot activity – is set to hit in 2025, with up to 115 sunspots likely to appear on the sun’s surface during its days of peak activity.
Solar activity has accelerated in recent years, with numerous X-class flares flying over our planet since the spring of 2022 – sometimes within days of each other. The number of sunspots and solar flares will likely increase as time progresses towards the next solar maximum.
Originally posted on Live Science.