Giant sunspot grows visibly and points straight towards the Earth

A giant sunspot located directly in front of the earth challenges astronomers because of its rapid growth.

For a few days, astronomers have been following the evolution of a giant sunspot with very special attention; it is growing at an astonishing rate and will remain directly facing the Earth for a few more days.

These sunspots are dark areas on the surface of the Sun. They occur as a result of variations in the magnetic field. If scientists follow them closely, it is because they are the scene of violent solar flares.

These are often associated with a phenomenon called “coronal mass ejection”, or CME. In short, it is a bubble of charged particles (or more precisely of plasma) that is thrown in a precise direction of the star’s inner activity.

© SDO / HMI

The Earth directly in sight

Therefore, when the sunspot in question faces directly toward Earth, as is the case here, the planet is directly exposed to these EMCs. And it is precisely this eventuality that motivates the monitoring of sunspots. Because these EMCs can have very important consequences.

Most of them are stopped dead by the earth’s magnetic field, which acts as a shield. But the most powerful of them can still have noticeable effects. Not directly to humans, but to electrical installations and electronic equipment. This is exactly what happened around the Easter weekend, when moderate solar flares caused a few radio failures on Earth (see our article).

A sunspot 2.5 times larger than our planet

And in some particularly rare cases, the situation even becomes critical. In fact, unusually intense EMCs are quite capable of roasting half of the world’s electronic infrastructure in a matter of moments with all the catastrophic consequences it entails.

An X-class solar flare caused a radio shutdown on Earth

Suffice it to say that astronomers had to swallow a good shot when they found out that the sunspot in question, called AR3038, was growing very fast. “Yesterday AR3038 was big. Today it’s huge. This fast growing sunspot doubled in size in just 24 hours, ”The authors of the report explain on spaceweather.com. But fortunately, astronomers consider this task to be less threatening than it appears.

No X-class outbreak can be expected

Solar eruptions are classified using a somewhat special nomenclature. It starts with a letter (A, B, C, M or X), which indicates the effect category. A denotes the smallest; on the contrary, X denotes the most violent eruptions. The official definition explains that they have the potential to “trigger nationwide radio power outages and prolonged radiation storms“.

In the case of AR3038, specialists estimate that it may give birth to a class M solar flare, which is equivalent to a medium intensity. That’s why no risk of radio blackout like last April. The possibility of a solar flare of the X-Class, the only truly ominous type on our scale, seems completely excluded.

On the other hand, this event shows once again that the Sun is it particularly active at the moment. Astronomers know that it is currently in the increasing phase of its 11-year cycle; they therefore expected significant activity. But even in this context, the spring of the sun has been extremely eventful.

The number of sunspots is an excellent indicator of this dynamic; and during that period, astronomers have seen almost twice as many as expected. We therefore have to knock on wood as we approach next peak of solar activity expected between 2023 and 2026.

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