Space watchers have spotted a giant sunspot triple the size of the Earth, expressing concern over its potential to beam medium-class (M-class) solar flares towards the Earth.
NASA heliophysicist C. Alex Young, writing at EarthSky, said that between Sunday and Monday, Sunspot AR3038 more than doubled in size, making it several times wider than Earth’s diameter, and continuing to expand in the past 48 hours.
Similar observations were made by Tony Phillips, the author of SpaceWeather.com, saying that he was astonished by the pace at which the sunspot has been growing in the past 24 to 48 hours.
“The fast-growing sunspot has doubled in size in just 24 hours,” he said on Wednesday, noting that the magnetic field surrounding it has the potential to blast M-class solar flares toward our planet.
In the past few months, the sun has been particularly sending out many M-class and X-class flares as activity grows in the regular 11-year cycle of sunspots.
Sunspots are black-colored regions on the surface of the Sun, which are colder than the other areas. They emit powerful bursts of radiation / solar flares. Sunspots are very cold because they develop over locations with extremely powerful magnetic fields.
Scientists have classified solar flares according to their brightness in the x-ray wavelengths.
X-class flares are big; they are major events that can trigger radio blackouts around the whole world and long-lasting radiation storms in the upper atmosphere.
M-class flares are medium-sized; they generally cause brief radio blackouts that affect Earth’s polar regions. Minor radiation storms sometimes follow an M-class flare.
C-class flares are small with few noticeable consequences here on Earth.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Center forecasts a 25 percent to 30 percent chance of M-class flares over the next three days and a 5 percent to 10 percent chance of X-class flares.
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.
(With inputs from agencies)
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