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Posted at 01:27 PM ET, 05/09/2012

Super-sized sunspot region eyes Earth, may eject big flares


Sunspot region 1476 is the black area in the upper left portion of the disc. (NASA/SDO)
NOAA calls it “prominent”, NASA says it’s a “monster”. This sunspot complex known as AR 1476 is rotating into direct alignment with Earth in the next few days. Then it will be primed to unleash waves of solar plasma that could disrupt radio and satellite communications, and produce dramatic auroras.

SpaceWeather.com says the sunspot AR1476 is “so large, people are noticing it without the aide of a solar telescope.” But Space.com cautions: “Never look at the sun directly with telescopes [without a filter] or the unaided eye.”

While the sunspot region is being called one of the largest in years - as long as 10 Earths and 60,000 miles wide, NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center notes it’s just one-third in area of the large regions of the Halloween Storms in 2003.

NASA reports the Halloween sunspot regions of 2003 produced an outbreak of 17 major flares, affecting not only satellite communications but also Sweden’s electrical grid. Aurora were seen as far south as Florida.


Sunspot region 1476 (NASA)
USA Today writes the current region (AR 1476) consists of a group of four large sunspots (all bigger than Earth) and numerous smaller spots.

This morning, it released an M4-class flare - in between the most powerful X-class flare category and least powerful C-class category. NOAA says the flare resulted in a minor (R1) radio blackout.

Separately, bursts of solar wind - or coronal mass ejections (from May 7) - from a different sunspot region, AR 1471, may produce “moderate geomagnetic storms” into tonight says SpaceWeather.com. Auroras are possible mainly at high-latitudes (Canada, Alaska, northern Europe).

We will let you know if there are any large flares from the more significant AR1476 as it moves into position facing Earth.

Related:

Why forecasting space weather is difficult

Understanding space weather forecasts and the risk of solar storms

Space weather: are we ready for a solar strike?

As the sun awakens, the power grid stands vulnerable

NASA: Frequently asked questions about space weather

NOAA: Primer on space weather

NOAA: Space Weather Prediction Center updates

SpaceWeather.com

By  |  01:27 PM ET, 05/09/2012

Categories:  Latest, Space, Astronomy

 
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