The Washington Post

Space weather update: massive sunspot region now facing Earth, primed to hurl out solar flares

Close-up of sunspot region 1476 presently facing Earth (NASA SDO)

The monster sunspot region, 60,000 miles wide, shot out a strong M-class flare Thursday (link: flare classifications), but there was no coronal mass ejection (blast of solar wind/plasma) that could trigger a geomagnetic storm affecting satellite communications and electronics on Earth.


The blast, which almost crossed the threshold into X-territory [the most intense flare classification], did not produce a significant coronal mass ejection (CME). “There seemed to be no CME due to the fact that the plasma was captured and dragged back down to the sun,” notes [David] Maidment [an amateur astronomer].

NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) is watching the sunspot region closely. It reports on its website:

NOAA Region 1476, now right in the middle of the solar disk, continues to dissipate its energy in relatively small bursts of modest flares and weak CMEs. That output belies its appearance -- large sunspots and entangled magnetic fields. Forecasters are vigilant...

SWPC is forecasting a high likelihood of moderate to strong flares in the next few days. It calls for a 75 percent of M-class flares and 20 percent chance of X-class flares through May 13.

Related links:

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

Jason is currently the Washington Post’s weather editor. A native Washingtonian, Jason has been a weather enthusiast since age 10.


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