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Posted at 12:52 PM ET, 11/04/2011

Monster sunspot poses threat of significant solar storms


Sun unleashes solar flare November 3. (NASA)
A major sunspot is presently emerging on the surface of the solar disk facing Earth. According to Jess Whittington at NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC), the huge and still growing sunspot is the most active part of the sun since 2005.

The area is called Region 1339 and is being referred to as a “benevolent monster.” 8.3 times bigger than Earth, it generated a solar flare which shot out a burst of charged particles yesterday but - this time - was not aimed at Earth.

However, this extremely active area of the sun will be facing earth for about two weeks. At this time there is no way to predict whether new flares will generate significant solar storms aimed towards Earth and, if so, whether they could result in geomagnetic storms capable of dire consequences on “life as we know it” .

Visualization of solar flare being ejected from the sun on November 3 courtesy NASA Solar Dynamics

It’s more likely that we’ll see only an increased chance of auroras, such as occurred last month. But, even if we escape this worst case scenario over the next couple weeks, the threat remains. And the possibility of a shorter term, more limited disruption of our technologically dependent society (far from “benevolent”) looms.

If a major threat becomes real, SWPC will be able to provide a few days advance notice of the possibility but only a few hours at most that the threat is about to become the reality. More on this in a forthcoming post.

Today’s forecast is for “mostly moderate” solar activity but “a chance for additional major flare activity.”

Related videos: NASA SDO - X1.9 Class Solar Flare, November 3, 2011 and Massive CME Eruption Captured

Related imagery: NASA’s SDO Captures an X-class flare

By  |  12:52 PM ET, 11/04/2011

Categories:  Astronomy, Space, Latest

 
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