Sun Grows A Monster Spot

Sunspot region 1302 is bursting with activity including two large X-class flares late last week. Its busy magnetic configuration makes more large flares likely this week. The group is larger than the planet Jupiter. Credit: NASA/SDO

I just got in from observing the sun with my little refracting telescope. My attention was riveted by a huge sunspot group on the eastern half of the sun’s disk that’s been growing larger and feistier by the day. I even saw it without any telescope at all through a pair of safe filtered glasses. Naked-eye sunspots you can see from your own front yard are uncommon and quicken the pulse of any solar observer.

I use a basic 80mm (3-inch) refracting telescope equipped with a safe reflective glass solar filter to quick and easy views of the sun. Photo: Bob King

Solar weather forecasters with NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center are calling for minor to major magnetic storms from a coronal mass ejection (CME) associated with a hefty flare from the group that popped off on the 24th. In basic English, that means there’s a possibility for auroras tonight across the northern U.S. and southern Canada. Because the spot group has a jumbled mix of north and south magnetic poles all within close proximity, chances are excellent that opposite poles will encounter one another and release powerful energy in the form of solar flares, increasing the chances for more northern lights in the coming week. And since the group is rotating closer to the center of the sun, any CMEs that occur are more likely to be directed toward Earth. ** UPDATE 9/26 at 11:30 p.m. — aurora is out over northern U.S.Β  Seen briefly in Duluth, Minn. before clouds moved in.

Sunspot region 1302 was an obvious dark dot this morning when viewed through solar filter glasses.

Timing couldn’t be better. The last modest auroral display was mostly washed out byΒ  September’s full moon. This week the moon is now around new phase and won’t cause any problems. If you’re interested in observing the sun through your telescope, it’s essential to use a safe glass or optical mylar solar filter. These are available from a variety of vendors including Orion Telescopes. Wherever you purchase yours, make sure it’s the kind that fits over the front end of the telescope to ensure the safest filtration.

Inexpensive sun-viewing glasses use a safe black optical mylar for lenses. Photo: Bob King

If you don’t own a telescope but would like to follow the progress of naked eye sunspots like group 1302, check out the “eclipse shades” from Rainbow Symphony. The glasses are made of cardboard with a safe, quality optical filter that gives a crisp image of the sun.

Sun watching is fun, easy and very rewarding as you follow the day-by-day march of spot groups across the disk. Old ones fade and new spots can pop up overnight.

38 Responses

  1. tom

    Hi i really know nothing about space or anything but I have heard stories about what is suppose to happen today and tomorrow and i’m kind of confused im a wondering if you will clear everything up for me so I can sleep good tonight sorry bob im just a old man looking for answers . and one ore thing this solar flare thing will it effect whats going on tonight?

    1. astrobob

      Hi Tom,
      Best to take it easy and get some rest. Nothing comet-related is going to happen. The solar flares from earlier may lead to northern lights as I wrote. There’s also a small chance it could affect some satellites and radio communications. This is typical for solar flares and has happened many times over the decades. A truly severe flare could potentially knock out some power grids, but I don’t see that kind of forecast yet regarding the current big sunspot group.

    1. astrobob

      Ah, rumors, rumors, rumors. Yes, asteroid 2011 SE58 will pass 149,000 miles from Earth tonight (Sept. 26) around 10:30 p.m. Central time. While close, there is no chance of a collision. These are not unusual events. For instance, 2009 TM8 will pass 0.9 LD (lunar distance) from Earth on Oct. 17 and 2005 YU55 0.8 LD on Nov. 8. Other asteroids earlier this year also made similar or even closer approaches.

  2. les

    What scares me with solar flares and auroras are when people start seeing those lights and not know exactly how they happen and start making up nonsence and what not. have auroras and solar flares always happened?? And is it because of a planetary line up tonight??? And the comet??

    1. astrobob

      Solar flares have happened as long as we’ve been observing the sun and no doubt for millions of years (as have auroras). The first flare ever seen in a telescope was extremely powerful — that was back on September 1, 1859. Comets and “alignments” are not responsible for flares. They’re intrinsic to the sun.

  3. les

    So what exactly are we in store for tonight?? Im getting kinda nervous

    …We have solar flares ..auroras..a comet passing..and planets lined up?? Yeah im getting nervous..seems like alot

  4. les

    =( thats not funny….im coming to you because im not someone who knows about science…. And figured you could anwser with a honest truthful anwser…not sarcasm…you were helping me and now are scaring me.i

    1. astrobob

      It’s a joke of course. I’ve already written you many replies about how “alignments”, Comet Elenin, close asteroids, etc. pose no danger. Sometimes humor’s the best medicine πŸ™‚

  5. stephanie

    you dont seemed worried at all bob!! are you gonna watch the conjuction tonight can u even see it? or the astroid can u see that or no? and how brief is it? and les I know how u feel bob has been helping me for weeks now!!! he has been great and I trust his word! noone else would be up this late answering our questions!!

  6. David

    Hey Bob. When the asteroid passes will we be able to see it? Also if it passes its closest at 10:30 pm will it pass us swiftly or will it seem to linger? Sorry im not nerves because youve been right so far and you always help me understand. Its just very AWSOME that it going to be so close and only saying hi lol so to speak.

    1. astrobob

      It will be moving at a good pace when seen through a telescope. Unfortunately, the asteroid’s pretty much for astrophotographers because it’s only 16th magnitude at brightest for a brief period centered on closest approach. You’d need a 17-inch scope or larger to spot it.

  7. Milayla

    Hey bob its 12:07am eastern time and so far so good I just wanna thank u for all ur post! I have to admit I been up worried even tho u said not too! I just have one more last question is the conjuntion over? Can I finally rest now ? Is the elenin stuff over? Thank you soo much being patient with the whole situation…..

  8. les

    Well bob… have helped me understand that science and planets and dont have to be a scarey thing. I want to thank you for talking to me when i was to embarrased to speak about it with family…I was scared….but with ur calculations and science…it happened according to plan. Amazing. I appreciate what you do and that your so patient with others thrown by doom gloomers. Im sure i will have questions down the road…and thanks again πŸ™‚

    1. astrobob

      Not true. That’s someone who wrote for their citizen sound-off site where anyone can say anything they please.

  9. Lisha

    Hi Bob, Im a bit scared of the things I’ve been reading on the internet about elenin, asteroids & now the sun…. With all the sunspots going on with our sun & the solar flares, can it or will it cause any earthquakes or any other destruction’s?? Also Ive been seeing post’s about a supermoon? What is this?? I tend to read alot of nonsense doomsday stuff & freak myself out… I would just like to be able to get a goodnite’s rest tonite….

  10. stephanie

    I just wanna say Thanks Bob I couldnt have gotten thru last night without ur blog!! You deff know ur stuff!! but no offence I think Im gonna lay off space exploration for a while its not for me!! Ill check in from time to time keep watching the skies for me !! thanks a million!!!!

    1. astrobob

      Thank you! And don’t shy away from the sky. Get to know it and you’ll come to enjoy the night and all the cool things up there that much more.

  11. les

    Lol… Hi bob… I think i will be fine till oct 15th with the comet close to earth…and then 2012 with what people are posting about a galactic plane and earths demise….uh oh not again…do u know of anything about that?

    1. astrobob

      It’s all so much hogwash. Take what you’ve learned from the Comet Elenin non-event and exercise a skeptical mind toward any claims regarding the comet’s closest approach to Earth (nothing will happen) and the “terrors” of 2012.

  12. Milayla

    First off I wanna say thanks for getting back to me last night so late lol im so glad u know ur stuff!! I just want u to clear something up for me a friend of mine said nothing happend cause elenin is not a comet but a nutron star or something like that and the worst has yet to come! Bob whats a nutron star? And is that even possible? I asked u before I start to worry I know u will know! Thanks

    1. astrobob

      I figured that once nothing happened, people would start coming up with new dates for future “disasters”. As I’ve said many times before, Comet Elenin is a small, crumbly comet. Neutron stars are planet-sized stars with the mass of the sun. Not a single one is anywhere near the solar system. No matter what you hear people calling Comet Elenin, please tell them that it is just a comet. That’s it.

  13. Milayla

    Lol so basically it would have been seen along time ago if their that big lol ok bob I knew I can count on you!! Yes from now on im just gonna quote you!! Have a nice night!

  14. Lisha

    Hello again, I was wondering if tere will be any CME’s that will hit earth’s magnetic pole’s tomorrow? & If so are they any threat to the earth?? People have been saying that volcanoe’s will erupt & so on… Any updates on the sun & the sunspot’s??

    1. astrobob

      Nothing’s in the forecast at this point. Please read back in the Comments for my response to this same question a couple days ago. Volcanoes are not connected in any way with solar flares.

  15. Jim Reed

    Hi Bob,

    I attempted to do some solar viewing for the first time today. When I put on the solar filter (Thousand Oaks) on my telescope (Nextstar 11), I can’t seem to find the sun in my eye piece with the solar filter on my telescope. There is nothing but blackness. What am I doing wrong?


    Jim Reed

    1. astrobob

      Hi Jim,
      It can be hard to point at a bright object like the sun, and unless you’re dead on, you’ll see nothing but blackness because of how effective the filter is. Here’s what you do. Point the telescope in the sun’s direction and then look at the shadow of the scope on the ground. Now move the tube until the shadow is at its shortest and most compact. When you do that, the sun will now be in your field of view. You might need to push a little this way or that way to center it, but the “shadow” method is the safest and easiest to use for finding the sun.

  16. k

    Wow, Bob. To me, your patience is more astounding than any celestial event. And that’s saying something considering how much I enjoy “the great outthere.” You are a true teacher.

    1. astrobob

      Hi K — many thanks! It’s a lot of fun, especially when people like you find the subject matter interesting. Clear skies!

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