Prodigious Sunspot Group Gets Our Attention

Sunspot region 1654 is big enough to show in a 400mm telephoto lens this morning  Jan. 14, 2013.  Thanks to a layer of clouds that filtered the sun’s light to a safe level, I could take a few quick photos. The spots are lined up horizontally above center. Photo: Bob King

I wrote about the current monster sunspot group in yesterday’s blog, but not until I saw with my own eyes through a filmy layer of clouds this morning did I realize how impressive it really is. The region, named 1654, stretches some 112,000 miles or approximately 14 times the diameter of the Earth across the sun’s northern hemisphere. With a safe solar filter, I could make out the two biggest spots.

The sun photographed by the orbiting Solar Dynamics Observatory at 11:30 a.m. CST today Jan. 14, 2013. Credit: NASA

Sunspots are dark because they’re several thousand degrees cooler than the sun’s visible surface called the photosphere. The contrast makes them appear greyish-black. Powerful magnetic energy concentrated in sunspots insulates them from the surrounding 11,000 degree heat by blocking the flow of hot gases from the sun’s interior. Less gas means less heat and cooler spots … if you call 8,000 degrees cool.

Although region 1654 continues to flare, no storms are expected to hit Earth for the time being. Just the same, the solar wind has been strong enough on its own in the past 24 hours to ignite northern lights displays across the Arctic. I’ll post updates regularly if a geomagnetic (auroral) storm should blow up.

By the way, ever since I saw the movie October Sky I’ve liked the word ‘prodigious’.

7 Responses

  1. brian r

    I like the word prodigious too. Peter Sellers gave it an interesting inflection in Dr Strangelove

    Keep up the good work, I find your blog most interesting.

  2. Giorgio Rizzarelli

    Awesome sunspots photo using clouds as natural filter, Bob! And great you saw it by eye! We have fully clouded here, too much.. have to keep an eye when clouds gets thinner!

  3. H.Bob

    It’s a great photo. Did you take it just through the clouds or did you have a photographic filter? Was it taken on a digital camera? I’m always worried about burning the CCD on a digital camera (have done it before) so reluctant to take direct photos of the sun.

    1. astrobob

      I shot the photo straight with no filter. The clouds were thick enough to make the sun quite tolerable through the viewfinder. It was taken with a digital camera. I’ve shot brighter suns with it with no trouble to the CCD, but I won’t shoot direct, “clear blue sky” sunlight through a telephoto lens without a filter. Just too dangerous. A WIDE-ANGLE photo that includes the sun in a blue sky won’t damage the CCD. I’ve shot lots of those in various cameras over the years.

      1. Giorgio Rizzarelli

        I think shooting at dawn/dusk is also safe (even with some zoom, as long as one doesn’t look in eyefinder but uses LCD), right? I’ve taken quite a few shots like that and saw various photos on, including two pics of the recent sunspot group, without filter and clouds…

        1. astrobob

          Yes – I’ve tried it but like you say, you’ve got to be careful especially if the air is really transparent.

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