The red hot ball of fire that happens to be the centre of our solar system seems pretty daunting as it is. But what if we told you this gigantic object was shooting out beams of fire and radiation in the Earth’s direction?
The Sun has been acting up more and more lately, as it approaches the end of its eleven-year cycle. And thanks to its temper tantrums, the solar weather has been pretty dynamic, with new reports of solar storms brewing on the Sun’s surface emerging almost every other day.
This time, it is the surfacing of sunspots that has the space weather experts tied up in knots.
If you’re wondering what sunspots are, they are precisely what the word sounds like: spots on the Sun. These planet-sized ‘spots’ appear darker than the rest of the Sun because they’re cooler than their surrounding areas. And these sunspots usually give rise to solar flares — beams of electromagnetic radiation capable of causing power grid failures and such down here on Earth.
Eight new sunspots on the Earth-facing side
Last week, reports of the Sun sporting eight sunspots on the Earth-facing side of the solar disk first emerged. Several of these were M-flare (medium-intensity flares) players, and NOAA/SWPC even indicated a slight chance for X-class (highly intense) flares, space weather woman Dr Tamitha Skov said.
The new spots that came into Earth’s view have been labelled as solar regions 3030, 3031, 3032, 3033, 3034, 3035, 3037 and 3038.
Tamitha further suggested that there existed the possibility of radio blackouts on Earth’s dayside, along with noise on the radio bands and GPS disruptions near dawn and dusk for the next week or so.
However, one sunspot in particular has since exceeded the experts’ expectations and has doubled in size for three consecutive days!
Sunspot the size of nearly three Earths continues to grow
According to NASA heliophysicist C. Alex Young from EarthSky, the Sunspot AR3038 more than doubled in size between Sunday and Monday, making it several times wider than Earth’s diameter. Thereafter, it continued to grow in the subsequent 48 hours.
Tony Phillips, the author of SpaceWeather.com, made similar observations as he expressed his astonishment at the rate at which the sunspot has grown. “The fast-growing sunspot has doubled in size in only 24 hours,” he said on Wednesday, adding that the magnetic field that surrounds it has the potential to blast M-class solar flares toward Earth.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Center has forecast a 25-30% chance of M-class flares and a 5-10% chance of X-class flares until Friday, June 24.
Despite being the second-strongest form of solar flare, M-class flares are relatively unobtrusive and usually only cause modest radio blackouts. Minor radiation storms sometimes follow an M-class flare. A similar solar flare had resulted in radio signals being disrupted in Japan and Russia earlier this month.
But on the brighter side, the solar flares may also produce visually appealing Northern Lights or auroras on Thursday, June 23.
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