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.
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.
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.
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.