A massive sunspot, larger than any since November of 1990, has been churning out solar flares with abandon over the past week. And it didn’t take the weekend off.
Since Friday, the sunspot (AR2192) has exploded with four X-class and eight M-class solar flares, though none of the flares from this region have yet produced a coronal mass ejection (CME), which would lead to a geomagnetic storm here on Earth. The most recent X-class flare occurred around 10:45 a.m. ET on Monday.
Geomagnetic storms — which occur when the magnetic cloud from the sun interact with the Earth’s magnetic field — have the potential to produce beautiful aurora in the high latitudes. But they can also pack the capability to cause serious interference in communications technology on Earth, as well as damage to the electric grid and satellite hardware.
Given the enormity of AR2192, scientists at the Space Weather Prediction Center have been monitoring the sunspot closely over the past week, in case it unleashes an Earth-bound CME. The sunspot is approximately 80,000 miles in diameter, and large enough to line up 10 Earth’s side by side within its area.
However, this sunspot appears to be all talk and no action, according to Doug Biesecker at the Space Weather Prediction Center. Despite all of the activity in the past week, there have been zero CMEs, which is great news for Earthly infrastructure , though not so great news for aurora-watchers. “It’s a big region with lots of big flares… but that’s it,” said Biesecker.
The center is forecasting a 55 percent chance of another X-class flare through Wednesday.