A fast-growing giant sunspot that can emit solar flares has more than doubled in size in recent days and is currently facing Earth, according to experts.
Sunspots are dark areas of strong magnetic fields on the sun’s surface. They appear dark because they are much colder than other parts of the sun’s surface, having formed at areas where magnetic fields are particularly strong, according to NASA.
Because of the strong magnetic field, magnetic pressure increases while the surrounding atmospheric pressure decreases, resulting in the lower temperatures.
Sunspots are also associated with eruptive disturbances such as solar flares, which are fast moving eruptions of radiation, and coronal mass ejections (CMEs), which is when large masses of plasma and highly magnetized particles violently eject from the sun. Flares move at the speed of light and take about eight minutes to reach earth, while CMEs can take three to four days to reach earth.
The fast-growing sunspot noted by experts is known as AR3038.
“Yesterday, sunspot AR3038 was big. Today, it’s enormous,” Tony Phillips, the author of SpaceWeather.com wrote on Wednesday.
“The fast-growing sunspot has doubled in size in only 24 hours,” Phillips added.
The expert noted that the magnetic field surrounding AR3038 could potentially blast M-class solar flares, or medium-sized flares, towards Earth.
Photos from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory taken on June 22 show the sun with numerous sunspots, with AR3038 looking particularly big after evolving over the past few days.
The sunspot has doubled in size each day for the past three days and is roughly 2.5 times the size of Earth, C. Alex Young, associate director for science in the Heliophysics Science Division at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said in an email to USA Today.
‘No Cause for Concern’
However, Rob Steenburgh, the acting lead of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Forecast Office has said there is no need to panic, noting that sunspots naturally grow in size.
“This is what sunspots do,” he told USA Today. “Over time, generally, they’ll grow. They go through stages, and then they decay.”
Young also noted that while the sunspot is producing flares, it “does not have the complexity for the largest flares” and there is only a 30 percent chance that it will create medium-sized flares. The chances it will create large flares are even smaller at 10 percent, the expert said.
W. Dean Pesnell, the project scientist of the Solar Dynamics Observatory, also offered reassurance that there is no need for concern, telling the publication that AR3038 is a “modest-sized active region” that “has not grown abnormally rapidly and is still somewhat small in area.”
As of June 22, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC), which monitors solar flares, has not issued any warnings for them.
However, if solar flares such as an X1-class solar flare are released from the sun, they can potentially create disruptions to communication satellites and long-distance cables here on earth, wreaking havoc with the world’s internet.
Another expert, Andrés Muñoz-Jaramillo, lead scientist at the SouthWest Research Institute in San Antonio, also stressed that there is no need for concern, explaining: “I want to emphasize there is no need to panic,” and that the sunspots “happen all the time.”
“We are prepared and doing everything we can to predict and mitigate their effects. For the majority of us, we don’t need to lose sleep over it,” Muñoz-Jaramillo said.