A sunspot nearly triple the size of Earth is within firing range of our planet, and may send out medium-class flares in the near future.
“Yesterday, sunspot AR3038 was big. Today, it’s enormous,” Tony Phillips, the author of SpaceWeather.com, wrote on Wednesday (June 22).
“The fast-growing sunspot has doubled in size in only 24 hours,” Phillips added, noting that the magnetic field surrounding it has the potential to blast M-class solar flares toward our planet.
The sun has numerous sunspots on this June 22, 2022 image from the Solar Dynamics Observatory. (Image credit: Courtesy of NASA/SDO and the AIA, EVE, and HMI science teams)
Should the sunspot blast out a coronal mass ejection, or CME, of charged particles that faces our planet, it’s possible those particles will interact with our magnetic field and create colorful lights in our atmosphere, known as auroras.
However, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) Space Weather Prediction Center, which monitors solar flares and other outbursts, has not issued any current aurora alerts for Earth.
The sun has been particularly active this spring, sending out many M-class and X-class (the strongest class) flares as activity grows in the regular 11-year cycle of sunspots.
NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory captured this view of a long-duration solar flare on June 13, 2022. (Image credit: NASA/SDO)
Typically, CMEs are harmless, perhaps producing brief radio blackouts along with the colorful auroras. On rare occasions, CMEs can disturb essential infrastructure like satellites or power lines, however.
That’s why both NASA and NOAA monitor the sun all the time. Additionally, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe mission is flying very close to the sun periodically to learn more about the origins of sunspots and to better understand the space weather the sun creates.