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A new sunspot doubles in size in 24 hours, Now directly pointing at Earth

A new sunspot doubles in size in 24 hours, Now directly pointing at Earth

A sunspot nearly three times the size of Earth is in our planet’s crosshairs and may cast mid-class flares in the near future. This could cause radio or satellite interference.

Sunspot doubles

“Yesterday sunspot AR3038 was big. Today it’s huge,” Tony Phillips wrote on Spaceweather.com on Wednesday, quoted by Space.com. “The fast-growing sunspot has doubled in size in just 24 hours,” Phillips added, noting that the surrounding magnetic field has the potential to launch M-class solar flares toward our planet.

If the sunspot launches a coronal mass ejection, or CME, of charged particles that stare at our planet, it’s possible those particles will interact with our magnetic field and create coloured lights in our atmosphere, known as auroras.

The sun has been particularly active this spring, sending out many M-class and X-class (the strongest class) flares as activity grows in the regular 11-year sunspot cycle.

CMEs are generally harmless and can cause brief radio blackouts along with colourful auroras. However, on rare occasions, CMEs can disrupt essential infrastructures such as satellites or power lines.

This is why both NASA and NOAA monitor the sun all the time. Additionally, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe mission is flying very close to the sun periodically to learn more about the origins of sunspots and better understand the space weather the sun creates.

When a solar flare hits Earth’s upper atmosphere, the X-rays and ultraviolet radiation from the flare ionize atoms, making it impossible for high-frequency radio waves to bounce off them and creating a so-called radio blackout. Radio blackouts occur in areas of the Earth that are illuminated by the Sun while a flare is taking place; These blackouts are classified from R1 to R5 according to severity, with R5 being the most serious episode.

In April and May, according to an article on the Livescience site, two solar flares caused R3 blackouts over the Atlantic Ocean, Australia, and Asia. As solar flares travel at the speed of light, they take only 8 minutes to reach us, from an average distance of about 150 million km.

If an Earth-facing sunspot form near the Sun’s equator (where AR3038 is located), it typically takes less than two weeks to travel across the Sun so that it’s no longer facing Earth, according to SpaceWeatherLive. Currently, AR3038 is slightly north of the solar equator and is just over half its diameter, so Earth will remain in its crosshairs for a few more days.

Despite its alarmingly rapid growth, the giant sunspot is less scary than it seems. Scientists estimate that this flare will only be class M, which “generally cause brief radio blackouts affecting Earth’s polar regions,” along with minor radiation storms, the European Space Agency wrote in a blog post.

What is Solar Flares?

NASA defines Solar Flares as “an outburst of energy caused by the entanglement, crossing, or rearrangement of magnetic field lines near sunspots.” These solar particle flares are common. The US space agency describes sunspots as “areas that appear dark on the sun’s surface.”

Visually they appear as dark spots as they are much cooler than other regions of the solar surface. It is important to mention that due to the enormous dimensions of the sun (it is 100 times larger than the Earth), sunspots can be larger than entire planets.

The sun has a cycle that lasts 11 years. This is because the star is, according to NASA, “an electrically charged ball of gas”, so the star’s magnetic field reorganizes itself from time to time. At the end of its cycle, the sun’s magnetic field completely reverses. That is, the north and south poles change places with each other. This phenomenon generates enormous amounts of energy, which are dispersed in the cosmos and, of course, impact the Earth.

The movements of these electrically charged particles can disrupt the planet’s magnetic field with enough force to send satellites to Earth, and scientists have warned that extreme geomagnetic storms could even bring the internet to a standstill. Erupting debris from CMEs typically takes 15 to 18 hours to reach Earth, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Space Weather Prediction Center.

Astronomers have known since 1775 that solar activity waxes and wanes on a roughly 11-year cycle, but recently, the sun has been more active than expected, with nearly twice the number of sunspot occurrences predicted by NOAA. The sun’s activity is projected to steadily increase over the next few years, reaching an overall maximum in 2025 before tapering off again. The current cycle, called solar cycle 25, began in 2020.

Scientists believe that the largest solar storm ever witnessed during contemporary history was the Carrington Event of 1859, which released roughly the same energy as 10 billion 1-megaton atomic bombs. After slamming into Earth, the powerful stream of solar particles fried telegraph systems around the world and caused auroras brighter than full moonlight to appear as far south as the Caribbean. If a similar event were to occur today, scientists warn, it would cause trillions of dollars in damage and trigger widespread blackouts, much like the 1989 solar storm that released a billion-tonne plume of gas and blacked out the entire Canadian province, NASA reported.

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