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23rd Jun 2022

A giant sunspot that can blast significant solar flares is now facing the Earth

April Curtin

The sunspot is three times the size of planet Earth

A huge sunspot has doubled in size in just 24 hours, and a significant solar flare is now pointing towards Earth.

Sunspots are dark, planet-size regions of strong magnetic fields on the surface of the sun, as explains. They can produce eruptive disturbances such as solar flares and Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs).

This particular sunspot, also known as AS3038, is three times the size of our planet.

Writing on on Wednesday, author Tony Phillips said: “Yesterday, sunspot AR3038 was big. Today, it’s enormous.”

And the sunspot could send out medium strength M-class solar flares towards Earth, experts say.

As the European Space Agency explains, a solar flare is a “tremendous explosion” that happens on the Sun, when energy stored in ‘twisted’ magnetic fields (usually above sunspots) is suddenly released.

It was only back in April a warning was issued by NASA after the Sun sent out its strongest solar flare in half a decade, Metro reports. But even though it was an ‘X-class’ flare, the strongest rank which can cause serious disruption, it did not cause a whole lot of damage.

Thankfully, this means that the ‘M-class’ flare, which is of medium size, can only cause low-level damage, and is unlikely to be of any danger either.

Speaking to USA Today News, Rob Steenburgh, lead of the NOAA’s Space Weather Forecast Office, said: “The sunspot’s size and growth rate are fairly normal. This is what sunspots do. Over time, generally, they’ll grow. They go through stages, and then they decay.”

Excitingly, AS3038 could cause a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) – a large expulsion of plasma and magnetic field from the sun’s atmosphere.

CMEs are also normally harmless – except for occasionally causing brief radio blackouts and, on more rare occasions, disturbing infrastructure like power lines or satellites.

But this could, in turn, give humans the chance to see the sky lit up with aurora – an electrical phenomenon characterised by the appearance of streams of reddish or greenish light in the sky.

The Space Weather Prediction Centre at NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration) is yet to issue an aurora alert.

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