Huge Sunspot Forebodes Major Solar Flares

An enormous sunspot observed on the sun over the weekend may portend problematic solar activity, according to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report. The cool area of the sun known as AR1476, which contains multiple sunspots big enough to see with even basic astronomy equipment, displayed complex beta-gamma magnetic fields as it passed within view of the Earth on May 6th.

A sunspot is a temporary area of relatively cooled plasma on the surface of the sun. The group of sunspots that appeared on Sunday were massive, with four individual zones larger than the Earth itself and a complete length of over 100,000 kilometers. The same region of the sun is currently experiencing major solar flare activity, and stronger than usual flares are expected to hit the Earth between May 9th and May 11th.

Solar flares are usually harmless to people and animals on the ground, but significant solar activity also comes with a magnetic component. These strong and unexpected magnetic fields can interfere with electronic equipment. The radiation from a coronal mass ejection can affect satellites in orbit, and at extreme levels, become attracted to large electrical centers, knocking out power in high population areas.

[via Spaceweather - photo by Alan Friedman]