Grab Those Eclipse Glasses — See These Giant Sunspots!

Filtered by thick fire haze, several large sunspots were easily seen through a telephoto lens shortly before sunset last night. Credit: Bob King

Last night I called my Mom to talk and mentioned she could use her eclipse glasses to see the huge sunspots that now blotch the sun. Unfortunately, she thought the glasses were for one-time use and threw them out after the eclipse! “No, no, no,” I told her. “They’re good to look at the sun any day of the year.”

While I’ll be shipping off another pair to her, I hope you’ve kept your glasses because you’re in for a treat. Two large sunspot groups, regions 2673 and 2674, have made a beautiful mess of the sun’s otherwise smooth complexion. 2674 forms a conga line nearly one-fifth the width of the solar disk, while 2673 went from being a small, unremarkable spot on Saturday (September 2nd) to a monstrosity over the following 24 hours. It’s now one of the largest sunspots of the year and harbors a complex magnetic field that could become a hotbed for M-class flares.

This photo of a very active sun was made earlier today (Sept. 4) with NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. The two large groups are easily visible to the unaided eye through a safe solar filter, with 2373 the easiest. The leader (right hand) spot of 2374 should also be visible. Observers with keen vision may also see the somewhat smaller spot at the opposite end of the group. Credit: NASA / SDO

You gotta see these guys. Yesterday evening, before the sun sank too low, I whipped out my welder’s glass and easily spotted the lead spots in both groups. They looked like flecks of dust or against the bright sun. Had I viewed it higher in the sky earlier in the day, I’m sure I would have seen the other big spot on the far end of 2674. My filter’s now tucked in my front pocket, ready to use at a moment’s notice.

Sunspot groups have a lead spot and followers. In group 2674, we can picture one as one pole of a magnet and the other as the opposite pole. Credit: NASA / SDO

Sunspots are bundles of powerful magnetic energy that become buoyant and rise from below to the sun’s surface. They insulate and cool the surrounding area, the reason they appear darker than the rest of the sun. Sunspots almost always have a north pole and a south pole like a magnet, with the leader spot of one polarity (say, north) and the following spot(s) of the opposite polarity (south). Sometimes a mix of north and south poles appear inside a big sunspot. Jostled by the bubbling froth of hot gases, norths and south can reconnect and release their energy as powerful flares with energies equal to millions of 100-megaton hydrogen bombs.

Although no large flares have occurred to this point, they’re in the forecast. We’ll keeps tabs and cross our fingers the appearance of these huge spots may bring us some northern lights.

** Update: The sun came out of the clouds! Spot group 2373 is the biggest and easiest. The leader in 2374 is also visible, and I could tell that the rest of the group extended to the left (east). I only glimpsed the largest following spot. If you have a filtered telescope, the view is amazing.

13 Responses

  1. Mike McCabe

    Hi Bob,

    Like you I’ve been watching these groupings with much glee. It’s nice to see the sun so active as it heads into minimum. However, unlike you I haven’t been able to pick up the larger spots at zero magnification. 6x – no problem, but 0x – nada. I tried both yesterday and today. If the sky holds I think I’ll try at sunset this evening and see if the refractive atmosphere can help me out.

    1. astrobob

      Hi Mike,

      Thanks for sharing your observations. Do you have good quality glasses? I used a #14 welders to see them. That one group was easy and the other not too hard but it does take a certain scrutiny to see them. The hardest observation was seeing the extension of chain-like group to the east. That came and went. Good luck this evening and let us know how it goes.

  2. vern bunch

    the California forest fires smoke covered the Colorado sunset, and you could easily look at the round orb we call the sun. it was very eerie looking.

    Then–we could see 2 sun spots with our naked eyes!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    (don’t write I shouldn’t look at the sun directly, just refrain). I looked several times, at 5 minutes each time, my eyes are fine thank you.

    1. astrobob

      Hi Vern,
      Glad you saw the spots. There are times when the sun is heavily veiled by smoke or haze near the horizon when it’s OK to look. I looked at it, too.

  3. Murray Barker

    Sorry to change the subject, Bob, but I have a question for which I have never received a satisfactory answer from astronomers. I have always contended that because of the big bang expansion theory there must be a centre to the universe. After all, calculation of the age of the universe is based on reversing expansion of the universe back to a single point. It does not matter to me where the centre is located, but the response that there is no centre because expansion took place everywhere simultaneously makes no sense. Based on that premise there can be no calculation of age for the universe. Also, if matter, space and time were created simultaneously, then this premise also demands that the universe has a centre. Please advise of your thoughts on the matter.

    1. astrobob

      Hi Murray,

      Always a great question. I don’t know if this will help, but the Big Bang was not an explosion in a pre-existing space but rather an explosion of space itself. Every part of that space is expanding, so an observer looking out from their galaxy sees other galaxies racing away as if they were at the center of things. Likewise, an observer in another galaxy also sees all the galaxies in the distance moving away as if that observer were at the center. But there is no center, no “hot spot” where it all began. The distribution of galaxies on a cosmic scale is uniform and shows no preferential congregation at a center — as far as we know it. The same with the cosmic background radiation — its distribution is nearly uniform, indicating no center. It floods and fills the expanding universe as if the entire cosmos were the center.

  4. Richard Keen

    So, since at the moment of the Big Bang, everything – our galaxy, Andromeda, the Virgo Cluster, the most distant quasar, and Duluth – was at the the same place (the point of the Big Bang), everything (and everywhere) was at the center. Reversing nouns, the center was (and is) everywhere.
    Duluth really is the center of the Universe.
    So is my telescope deck in Colorado.

      1. Mitch

        Interesting, I never understood that statement that way. Can you reference some science articles on this. I’d like to read up more on it. Now that you explained it that way, I’m starting to think how this may be indicator of existence of more then 3 dimensions of the physical universe – while we just perceive the 3 dimensional projection.

        1. astrobob

          Hi Mitch,

          Just take a look around online on the topic of the center of the universe. The best analogy – and one that’s been around a long time – is the balloon marked with dark spots. Each represents a galaxy. As the balloon is blown up, each spot moves away from the other. The farther each spot is from another, the faster it will appear to move away. You can even make your own dotted balloon and see it for yourself.

          1. Mitch

            Right.. so surface of the balloon is 2 dimensional. On that 2 dimensional surface from each spot you can see that all other spots are moving away. You can even notice from any spot that all other spots are moving away from each other too. What you don’t know when restricted to those 2 dimensions – that in 3 dimensional space – that balloon is expanding from one center. Are we on a 3-dimensional “surface” of an 4(or more) -dimensional “balloon” that is being blown up from same center?

          2. astrobob

            Hi Mitch,

            Ah, and this is where the balloon analogy only goes so far. It’s 2D standing in for 3D and the center of the balloon is irrelevant just like an imagined “center”in 4D space. Again, the analogy only goes so far and has to be taken with certain caveats.

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