Sunspots are usually not a real cause for concern, even if they double overnight and grow to twice the size of the Earth itself. This is exactly what happened with the active region 3038 (AR3038), a sunspot that faces the Earth and could produce some smaller solar flares. While there is no cause for concern, this means that a potentially exciting event could happen – spectacular auroras.
Although scientists consistently point out that humans are not at risk for sunspots like the AR3038, this does not prevent popular media from taking care of them, especially those that appear to be growing rapidly. But it’s all normal, says Rob Steenburgh, head of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of Space Weather Forecasting.
He points out that this type of rapid growth is exactly what we expect to see at this point in the solar cycle, an 11-year pattern that repeats 2019. . It simply lacks complexity.
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Solar flares occur when the magnetic fields surrounding a sunspot break and reunite into complex patterns, some of which cause the sense of smell to be ejected into the solar system. If they hit the Earth, they could potentially cause damage to some infrastructure, especially one that relies on electricity. However, they are more likely to create spectacular auroras when their ions hit the Earth’s magnetic field.
They are rated by severity, from B (weakest) to C, M and X (strongest). X flares have their own grading system, and the most powerful solar flares, the X20, occur less than once in an 11-year solar cycle and are not usually facing the Earth.
The probability of X20 formation due to AR3038 is small, although there was a 10% chance that it would create a less powerful X torch. More likely are M flares, for which the AR3038 has a 25% chance of developing before they go out in size and scale, as sunspots usually do.
However, it does not appear that any of these torches will be aimed at the Earth, as the AR3038 has rotated backwards out of sight and is no longer facing us. There is another active region, AR3040, which has had 6 C-class torches in the last 24 hours. So there’s still a chance for some spectacular auroras if the planet happens to be in the path of one of those C-Class torches.
If not, the whole episode with the rapid growth of AR3038 will be another example that the public is generally concerned about what seems to be a threatening development, but which is quite common and even harmless. With all the equipment currently set up to track the Sun, the general public can be sure that we will have at least some warning before any potentially harmful torch affects our Earth-related systems. But it can take a while before that happens, so don’t hold your breath.
Find out more:
USA Today – ‘No need to panic’ as sunspot with potential for solar flares doubles overnight, scientists say
Space.com – Right in front of us right now is a giant sunspot the size of 3 Earths
Earthsky.org – Solar activity: A small geomagnetic storm
UT – Astronomical Jargon 101: Sunspots
UT – A colossal torch erupted from the far side of the Sun.
Composite image of the Sun’s surface 21.6.22. The AR3038 can be seen in the upper right corner.
Credits – Office of Space Weather Forecasts NOAA
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