The Washington Post

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) says the sunspot AR1476 is “so large, people are noticing it without the aide of a solar telescope.” But 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)

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 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.


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

Jason is the Washington Post’s weather editor and Capital Weather Gang's chief meteorologist. He earned a master's degree in atmospheric science, and spent 10 years as a climate change science analyst for the U.S. government. He holds the Digital Seal of Approval from the National Weather Association.

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