A recent X2-class flare and the appearance of a large new sunspot group tell us the Sun’s awoken from its slumbers. Last week, hardly a spot pocked the solar disk. We took this (correctly) as a sign of the approaching minimum of the sunspot cycle. But the Sun’s like an old-fashioned general store, where there’s always something tucked back in a recess that’ll do the job in a pinch.
Over the past two days the seemingly “empty store” has produced a large and complex sunspot region with the potential for both M and X-class flares. I grabbed my #14 welders glass this morning and could see the complex with the naked eye as a single, slightly stretched “spot” in the upper left corner of the Sun.
Through a small refractor at 24x half a dozen sunspot groups were visible with Region 2339 looking like a parade of turtles. Beautiful stuff!
Mylar or aluminized optical plastic filters are great for naked eye Sun viewing, but if there’s a welding supply shop in your town, you can buy a #14 welders glass, which is equally safe and quite inexpensive. Just remember to never place it BETWEEN a telescope or binocular eyepiece and your eye. Telescopes concentrate the Sun’s light and can cause the glass or plastic Mylar to crack or melt. I keep the filter in a convenient place, and hold it directly over my eyes to view the Sun.
With the group still well over on the eastern part of the Sun’s disk, chances for flares to blow solar material our way are low for the next couple days. That may change as 2339 moves closer to the disk’s center. That said, there was a minor auroral storm visible in the western U.S. in the early yesterday morning from an earlier coronal mass ejection (CME).
We’re ripe for more auroras as long as the big sunspot remains big and magnetically busy. The next day or two look pretty quiet, but we’ll be watching next week to see if the indicators rise. I hope so. With no moon in the evening sky to water down the lights, we’re set to go. The Sun just needs to light the fuse.
In other news, the Russian space cargo ship Progress 59, which launched for the International Space Station on April 28 with three tons of supplies, will never arrive. The ship experienced technical difficulties and could no longer be controlled. There’s a possibility the third stage of the rocket that sent it into orbit experienced an explosion that sent the ship reeling.
Now out of control, Progress 59 is expected to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere tonight around 10 p.m. Eastern Time. That recent CME is partly to blame for the craft’s quick re-entry. Flares heat Earth’s atmosphere, causing it to expand, which then increases the drag on orbiting satellites.
Because the inclination of Progress’ orbit is 51.6°, it could fall anywhere between 51.6° north latitude and 51.6° south latitude — a huge swath of Earth. Considering that the majority of Earth is ocean or uninhabited, your neighborhood’s chances of getting hit are extremely slim. But you never know. Not until a few hours before it re-enters will controllers be able to predict with good precision where the ship will land.
Wherever it comes down, about 1,500 to 6,600 pounds of material are expected to survive the fiery fall and land in a long, narrow ellipse. We hope not on your head. To follow the progress of Progress, click HERE for a live, updated map showing its flight path.
* Bear update: For everyone wanting to know what happened to the bear that spent its day in downtown Duluth near the county courthouse, it appears to have moved out. We don’t know exactly where to, but it appears to have gotten away unharmed.