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.
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.
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.