Monster Sunspot Could Stir Up Auroras

The sun photographed this morning by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Telescope at 11:30 a.m. CDT this morning October 18. Credit: NASA

Not today and not tomorrow, but a monster sunspot group rounding the eastern limb of the sun could spunk up the fall aurora season. Active region 2192 harbors a Jupiter-sized sunspot that’s just now visible with the naked eye using a safe solar mylar filter or #14 welder’s glass. I spotted it very close to the southeastern edge of the sun today. In the coming days, it will rotate into better view, making for an easy catch with the naked eye or small telescope. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of a safe filter. You can purchase one HERE for naked eye viewing or HERE for your telescope.

Coronal mass ejection shot out by flare activity in new sunspot group 2192 on October 14 before it even rounded the sun’s limb. Image from the SOHO coronagraph. Click for video. Credit: NASA/ESA

Even before the behemoth came into view, it spawned a brilliant coronal mass ejection on October 14 and several M-class medium strength flares. If we assume that the giant spot stays potent, the sun will rotate it around to face Earth in about 6 days. Flaring and other activity would then stream in our direction.

It will also spice up the partial solar eclipse next Thursday afternoon. Watch for the black limb of the moon to not only eclipse the sun but this sunspot too!

Update: Sunspot group 2192 unleashed an strong X-1 class flare around midnight Oct. 18-19. Any material it may have launched into space would have missed Earth by a wide margin because of the group’s position near the sun’s edge.

6 Responses

  1. Dominik

    Bob,

    do you mind helping me understand heliophysics a bit more?
    So CMEs are ejections of Plasma from the sun, while Flares are radiation spikes which send off electrons and ions correct?
    Now CMEs happen when Two or more magnetic field lines reconnect and release the energy in those magnetic fields, splitting the Plasma in those magnetic fields from the sun right?
    What causes Flares then if it is not the reconnection of magnetic lines?

    And also both CMEs AND Flares can cause Auroras and disturbances in the Ionosphere and with our electronic systems right?
    It’s just that CMEs tend to have a more powerful effect, don’t they?

    Now I think you once wrote that CMEs and Flares follow the magnetic lines of the magnetosphere of the sun because they are charged.
    Meaning that the most dangerous CMEs and Flares are those who happen on the eastern side of the sun, from where a magnetic line is leading to earth.

    Is that correct?

    1. astrobob

      Dominik,
      Both flares and CMEs are energetic events on the sun. Flares are very localized and cover a smaller area than CMEs which can easily surpass the sun in size as they expand outward into space. Sometimes they occur together, other times they happen alone in the absence of the other. Big flares can happen rapidly and blast particles directly into space; longer, slower flares are often accompanied by a CME. Both flares and CME occur during magnetic reconnection of opposing field lines which releases large amounts of energy as each drops back to a lower energy state. When flares and CMEs occur near the edge of the solar disk they typically blast their material off the disk away from Earth. If they approximately face the Earth on the disk, that material is Earth-directed and much more likely to affect our magnetic environment.

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