Big Sunspot Group Turns Earth’s Way / Comet ISON Photo A False Alarm

Sunspot region 1944 has a complicated beta-gamma magnetic field making it prone to producing flares. Photo taken by the Solar Dynamics Observatory at 9:15 a.m. CST today. Click to enlarge. Credit: NASA

We knew it was big even when it rounded the sun’s limb two days ago, but now that sunspot group 1944 has rotated into clear view, we can truly appreciate its enormity. Based on my rough estimate, the largest spot in the group is now easily 40,000 miles across or five times the diameter of Earth and one of the largest of the current solar cycle.

Sunspot group photographed through a “cloud filter” with a 300mm lens this morning Jan. 4, 2014. With a safe solar filter, the group is big enough to see with the naked eye. Credit: Bob King

The group has banged off several moderate M-class flares in the past 24+ hours. NOAA space weather forecasters are calling for a 75% chance of additional M-flares and a 30% chance for powerful X-flares in the days ahead.

Given that the group’s predicted arc across the rotating sun will soon place it squarely in Earth’s direction, we hope that it continues to percolate with flares, potentially sparking auroras in the nights ahead.

Earth and moon size illustration compared to today’s photo of the large sunspot group. Credit: NASA

Using a #14 welder’s glass I could easily see the sunspot region as a dark dot in the lower right corner of the sun with my naked eye this morning. If you have a safe solar filter or a telescope equipped with one, take a look and be impressed.

The sausage-shaped glow running from upper left to lower right in the left-side negative image was suspected to be Comet ISON’s remnant. Photo at right shows nothing at ISON’s position on Jan. 1, 2014. The blue dot marks the predicted position of the comet; the green type gives the names of stars. Click for more images and information. Credit: Hisayoshi Kato

In other news, Japanese amateur astronomer Hisayoshi Kato made a deep image of Comet ISON’s location on December 29 using a 180mm f/2.8 telephoto lens near the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, recording a possible sausage-shaped dust remnant. Because long time exposures and electronic image processing can sometimes introduce artifacts into an image, Kato photographed ISON’s position again on Jan. 1 but came up empty handed.

No similar remnant stood out on the second try indicating his original photo didn’t capture the comet after all. Some of us were hopeful he had. So what is that dusty sausage? Possibly a strand of the Integrated Flux Nebula, a flock of dust clouds threading the galaxy that glow not by the light of a nearby star(s) but instead from the integrated flux of all the stars in the Milky Way. Think of it as stellar light pollution.

23 Responses

  1. L.Stephen

    Talking about the 2 coming blood moons on Passover and Sukkot in 2014 -15, I trust you’ve seen the prophecy experts talking about these as a major end-times
    “sign” for something major happening for Israel and the world. If not, check out Pastor Mark Blitz, who “discovered” this and/or Hagee’s latest book about the “Blood Moons”. thanks for your site and all your work, L. Stephen

    1. astrobob

      Thank you Stephen – I appreciate that. As for “blood moons” and end of the world, I don’t go in for that stuff. Why? The end has been predicted hundreds if not thousands of times by so many people who are absolutely certain of it happening. Yet each time nothing comes to pass. What’s amazing is how the doomsayers briefly fade back into the woodwork after their false predictions and then return again with more of the same – as if the slate is wiped clean after a few months. It never ends.
      My hunch is that humanity’s version of the world will end either by our own doing through bombs and pollution or we’ll be done in by an asteroid or comet impact. Alignments, coincidence, “blood” moons, numerology, prophecy, etc. just don’t cut it in my book. Even if humans disappear from Earth, other life forms, notably bacteria, will survive and carry life forward into the future. The Earth as a haven of life won’t end until the sun begins swelling into a red giant a couple billion years from now and roasts the planet like a marshmallow too close to the fire. For me, the outlook is rosy not bloody. Speaking of which, Hagee’s “blood moons” are total lunar eclipses, wonderful natural phenomena to appreciate and enjoy during our brief-as-a-meteor lives on Earth.

      1. tom pitts

        Hi Astro Bob,

        Just a few things to consider. First, the Bible never proclaims the world will end. In matter of fact, the Bible says we (believers) shall reign forever and ever on the earth with Christ (Revelation 22:5).

        You are correct in calling the blood moons lunar eclipses. However, as scientists, since we do not believe in coincidences, having a tetrad of blood moons (lunar eclipses) all on the same feast days of Passover and Sukkot in 2014 and 2015 and in the middle of these blood moons a black sun (total solar eclipse) on Nisan 1 (religious new year)…must be more than mere coincidence. In the last 500 years, only three times have a tetrad of blood moons fallen on these exact feast days…each time very significant events took place. However, there has never been included a darkened sun on a religious day, which increases the statistical probability of this being merely a coincidence, in my opinion.

        The Hebrew word used in Genesis 1:14 regarding why the lights in the heavens were created is “owth” which means a miraculous sign, omen, or warning. It signifies the heavenly bodies were created to communicate important matters at particular times to His covenant people.

        You are also correct in that the earth is going to be impacted by cosmic events. The book of Revelation in chapters 6 thru 8, speaks of these cosmic events. Whenever the word “star” is used, it comes from the Greek word for asteroid.

        Wishing you a peaceful New Year.

        1. astrobob

          Hi Tom,
          You’re certainly entitled to your opinion, but coincidence is seductive and has been used many times falsely to link events and predict the end of the world or some other catastrophe.

          For the record, the Greeks were completely unaware of asteroids, the first of which wasn’t discovered until 1801. The term asteroid was coined recently, its root is the Greek “astron” or star. I would also disagree with you that there has never been an eclipse of the sun on a religiously significant day Christian or otherwise.

          1. tom pitts

            Hi Astro Bob,

            Please understand, I did not say the Greeks were aware of asteroids. It is the Greek word (aster) from which we derive the word “asteroid” that I was referring to. I find that very interesting. The scriptures are not referring to an actual star impacting earth. Earth would not survive and there is more than one “star” prophesied to impact the planet according to Revelation.

            Also, please notice I did not say there has never been a solar eclipse on a religiously significant day in the past. What I did say was there have only been three instances involving a tetrad of blood moons on (the same) feast days in over 500 years, and at no time did this INCLUDE a black sun (total solar eclipse) on a religous day until now. This is actually not an opinion but fact. What we choose to believe is the opinion part.

            The book of Job, written over 3,500 years ago, interestingly mentions three constellations…Pleiades, Orion, and the Bear with her satellites (Job 38:31-33). The Septuagint LXX confirms this was not added years later. Maybe God knew some things about the heavens before the Greeks? I think you would be fascinated in reading what is written in Job about the earth and heavens. How could he have known these things?

          2. astrobob

            You said that the word “star” comes from the Greek word “asteroid”. The ancient Greeks did not have such a word – they used “astron” or possibly “aster” to refer to stars. Accuracy makes a difference. Blood moons, black suns and tetrads sound like loaded terms. Why not use the less scary-sounding term ‘eclipse’? Is there an agenda here? I try not to argue or debate matters of faith because I’ve come to learn that scientific reasoning, history and statistics cannot change belief. If you believe monumental things will occur during/after lunar and solar eclipses on certain days over a certain interval, that is your choice. My choice is different. Speaking of which – the Pleiades, Orion and Great Bear are all ancient, well-recognized star groups.

          3. Richard Keen

            It seems to me that the “coincidence” of feast days with a “tetrad” of lunar eclipses is not coincidence at all, but a pre-ordained inevitability. Here goes:
            1. Most major feasts and holy days occur at the time of the first new or full moon after one of the equinoxes.
            2. Eclipses always occur at new or full moons.
            3. Every 9 years the lunar orbital nodes meet the solstice point on the ecliptic, making the eclipse “window” the month or so around the equinox.
            4. Therefore, every 9 years there will be a series of eclipses around the equinoxes, and those that occur will fall on feast/holy days.
            I haven’t noticed the world ending every nine years.
            Now, a “tetrad” of lunar eclipses occurring around the equinoxes is less common. The last tetrad was in 2003-04, and there are six more in this century (total of 8). There were five in the previous century. See…
            (“tetrad” is an astronomical term for these events)
            My finger counting says one in six lunar eclipses will occur in the month following an equinox, and that one in six tetrads will likewise occur near the equinoxes. That’s about once a century, still something that occurs more frequently than the end of the world.
            For me, the special thing about this round of lunar eclipses is that I really like lunar eclipses, and all four are visible from my home in Colorado (but sadly, not Duluth). The last time THAT happened (four total lunar eclipses in a row visible from Colorado) was in 1967-68, I was in Chicago for the first three of these, and – sadly – one of the eclipses was only partial there.
            Bottom line – it’s all happened before, and we’re still here.

          4. astrobob

            Love your take here Richard. Thank you for doing the work to show that multiple eclipses on holy days are inevitable. It’s funny. I used the word “coincidence” to describe an eclipse on a holy day but I meant “inevitability”. Does that make sense?

          5. Richard Keen

            Hi Bob,
            Yes, “coincidence” could make sense. The coincidence is that the folks who set the dates for the feasts used the same criteria (new, full moons) that apply to eclipses. However, since those moon dates were chosen for a reason, it’s not really mere concidence. It’s intentional and purposed.
            Ever notice how there’s always a crescent moon in the evening sky when Ramadan begins?

          6. astrobob

            I was aware of Ramadan and Easter but there do appear to be other holy days. Of course, this completely makes sense, which turns the argument of “bad things happening” on its head.

          7. Richard Keen

            Bob, I think if a holy day is not on a specific date, like December 25, it’s a fair bet it’s on a day defined by a lunar calendar. Even that Mayan “end of the world” a few years ago was based on lunar (and other) cycles.
            Speaking of Ramadan, are you familiar with the Islamic Crescents’ Observation Project
            The calculation of the timing of Calls to prayer, fasts and feasts, and such is very similar to predicting eclipses.
            Many of the ICOP board members are enthusiastic lunar eclipse observers, as am I, and that’s how I found out about ICOP. Needless to say, they’re also enthusiastic about seeing very young lunar crescents.

          8. astrobob

            I hadn’t heard of the group but thanks for letting us know. By the way, did you see the super thin crescent photo taken by amateurs in the west just recently?

          9. Richard Keen

            Bob, do you mean this one on Spaceweather?
            And through clouds yet!
            I didn’t see the moon that evening. The weather here in Colorado this time of year isn’t the best for astro-bobbing. Clouds hug the mountains to the west, lenticular clouds sit overhead, snow flurries fly between the clouds, and the wind blurs the tiny crescents. A couple of nights ago it was zero degrees with gusts to 84 mph, which probably compares unfavorably with your 28 below. But it’s great for weather watching!

          10. astrobob

            Yes, that’s the group. I did a blog on it a couple days with a pic taken of the group with a 300 mm lens – very easy to see then with the naked eye and filter. It’s even better now.

  2. Andrew Leadley

    Tell me have the magnetic poles of the Sun changed yet. I saw one report to that effect in a New Zealand paper but no where else. Thanks.

  3. Edward M. Boll

    There is some hope of a possible image of ISON around Jan. 16 as we cross it’s orbital plane. I, usually optimistic think that nothing will show up, leaving ISON to our memories and records.

  4. caralex

    Tom Pitts, neither the Pleiades nor the Bear are constellations. The first is an open cluster of stars, the second is an asterism. Nor does the Bear have ‘satellites’. Maybe god needs a few lessons in astronomy?

    1. Mike

      He didn’t say they were constellations, just “star groups” or… a group of stars, he was vague on purpose. I can say the “red car” without having to say its a Honda Civic.

      1. caralex

        He did, Mike. He said: “The book of Job, written over 3,500 years ago, interestingly mentions three constellations…Pleiades, Orion, and the Bear with her satellites”

        However, I too made a mistake, which I’ll now correct. The Bear IS a constellation. I was thinking of the Plough (or Dipper), which is part of the Bear and an asterism.

  5. Guy S

    I tried the “cloud filter” this morning to photo sunspots and it worked! However, I decided I wanted more filter and the used the tint strip on my windshield in addition to the clouds. A few post-production adjustments and I could see four sunspots: 1948, 1949, 1952, and 1953.

    1. astrobob

      Hi Guy,
      Sounds good. It’s not often that the clouds provide the safety you need, but every once in a while, they’re perfect.

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