Big Sunspot Group Heats Up

The large sunspot group 2567 is ripe to spawn M-class flares that could stir up auroral activity here on Earth. This photo was taken this afternoon Central day light time. Credit: NASA/SDO
The large sunspot group 2567 is ripe to spawn M-class flares that could stir up auroral activity here on Earth. This photo was taken at 4:15 p.m. Central daylight time today. Credit: NASA/SDO

(Update: The aurora’s active tonight. Not a big storm, but if you live in the northern U.S. and the sky’s clear, head out for a look. A G1 storm (Kp=5) is underway with arcs and faint rays low in the northern sky. The activity, spawned by a coronal mass ejection (CME) from the sun earlier this week, arrived unexpectedly early. Keep in mind the full moon may make seeing this aurora tricky. Just the same, good luck!)

If you looked up at the sun today through a safe solar filter, you’d easily make out a couple black spots. They belong to two large sunspot groups, one of which, numbered 2567, has the potential to kick out flares strong enough to rattle Earth’s magnetic defenses.

According to the NOAA space weather 3-day forecast, both 2565 and 2567 have significant flare potential though the latter, with its messy magnetic field, has a greater chance for strong M-class solar flares. Should flares occur, the subatomic stew would make a beeline for Earth because the spots are near the center of the sun’s disk and facing our direction. Of course, that might mean aurora. Let’s wait and see.

Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/SDO/Joy Ng
Ultraviolet photos taken of the sun while the Solar Dynamics Observatory performed a roll appear to show the sun rolling too. Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/SDO/Joy Ng

In other sun-inspired news, on engineers instructed NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) to roll 360° on one axis. SDO dutifully performed the seven-hour maneuver, while still taking pictures every 12 seconds. Strung together, they show the sun doing the impossible – spinning like a pinwheel! While merely a reflection of the observatory’s movement, there’s something oddly transfixing about it.

SDO flips twice a year in order to make precise measurements of the edge of the sun called the solar limb. That’s because our star isn’t a perfect sphere but a boiling globe with distortions in its outline, making it hard to pin down exactly where the sun’s edge is, according to NASA. The biannual roll lets each part of the camera look at the solar limb to help scientists determine its precise shape.

2 Responses

  1. rob

    Thanx again for another exciting article. I am becoming dependent on your solar flair sightings for planning our northern lights excursions.

    1. astrobob

      Hi Rob,
      You’re welcome! There’s actually a minor G1 storm happening (a surprise one) right now. I’m monitoring in case it drops south in our direction. It started in the late afternoon but may be easing now.

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