A massive sunspot that has doubled in size in less than 24 hours is currently facing Earth, which means it is expected to unleash a solar flare in our direction.
Sunspots are dark regions on the sun’s surface that are accompanied by powerful radiation bursts. Because they are colder than other areas of the sun’s surface, they seem black.
Sunspots are relatively chilly because they originate over regions where the sun’s magnetic fields are so powerful that they prevent some heat from reaching the sun’s surface.
Sometimes, these tangled magnetic fields might spontaneously rearrange. When this occurs, a solar flare consisting of a rapid burst of light and radiation is ejected from the sun.
AR3038 is the sunspot that has been increasing in size lately. Sunday footage from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory shows how the sunspot has twisted and contorted over the previous day or two.
“Yesterday, sunspot AR3038 was large. Today, it’s enormous,” reads the SpaceWeather.com website. The size of the rapidly expanding sunspot has doubled in only 24 hours.
The magnetic field linked with the sunspot indicates that it might possibly hurl an M-class solar flare at Earth, which is the second-most powerful kind. It is unknown, however, if this will be the case.
As of Monday morning, the Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has not issued any solar flare alerts.
If sufficiently enough, solar flares may damage radio communication networks and navigation systems on Earth. This may be problematic for workers in the maritime and aviation sectors, among others.
Nevertheless, it is important to note that an M-class flare would likely not be extremely disruptive. Although M-class solar flares are the second-strongest category, they typically produce relatively mild radio blackouts.
An M9 flare, the most powerful of the M-class, may produce tens of minutes of radio silence in afflicted regions of Earth and degrade low-frequency navigation signals. Flares of the M type are also prevalent.