A giant sunspot has doubled in size in 24 hours and is pointing towards Earth

A gigantic sunspot has swelled to twice the size of Earth, doubling its diameter in 24 hours, and is pointed right at us.

The sunspot, called AR3038, grew to 2.5 times the size of Earth – making the sunspot approximately 19,800 miles, or 31,900 kilometers, in diameter – from Sunday (June 19) through Monday night ( June 20), according to Spaceweather.com, a website that tracks news about solar flares, geomagnetic storms, and other cosmic weather events.

Sunspots are dark spots on the Sun’s surface where powerful magnetic fields, created by the flow of electrical charges from the Sun’s plasma, form a knot before suddenly breaking apart. The resulting release of energy launches bursts of radiation called solar flares and generates explosive jets of solar material called coronal mass ejections (CMEs).

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“Yesterday, sunspot AR3038 was large. Today, it’s huge. The fast-growing sunspot has doubled in size in just 24 hours,” reported Spaceweather.com. “AR3038 has an unstable ‘beta-gamma’ magnetic field that harbors energy for class M [medium-sized] solar flares, and is directly facing the Earth.”

When a solar flare hits Earth’s upper atmosphere, X-rays and ultraviolet radiation from the flare ionize atoms, making it impossible to bounce high-frequency radio waves off them and creating a so-called radio blackout. Radio blackouts occur over areas of the Earth that are illuminated by the Sun while an eruption is in progress; such blackouts are classified from R1 to R5 according to ascending severity.

In April and May, two solar flares caused R3 blackouts over the Atlantic Ocean, Australia and Asia, Live Science previously reported. As solar flares travel at the speed of light, they take just 8 minutes to reach us, at an average distance of about 150 million kilometers.

If an Earth-facing sunspot forms near the Sun’s equator (where AR3038 is located), it typically takes just under two weeks to travel across the Sun before it is no longer facing Earth, according to SpaceWeatherLive.

Currently, AR3038 sits a little north of the Sun’s equator and is a little more than halfway up, so Earth will remain in its crosshairs for a few more days.

Despite its alarmingly fast growth, the giant sunspot is less scary than it looks. The eruptions it is likely to produce are M-class solar flares, which “generally cause brief radio blackouts that affect Earth’s polar regions,” along with small storms of radiation, the European Space Agency wrote in a blog post.

Class M eruptions are the most common type of solar flare. Although the Sun occasionally releases massive X-class eruptions (the strongest category) with the potential to cause high-frequency blackouts on the side of the Earth exposed to the eruption, these eruptions are observed much less frequently than smaller solar flares.

Sunspots can also spew out solar material. On planets that have strong magnetic fields, such as Earth, the runoff of solar debris from CMEs is absorbed by our magnetic field, triggering powerful geomagnetic storms.

During these storms, Earth’s magnetic field is slightly compressed by waves of highly energetic particles, which run down magnetic field lines near the poles and stir up molecules in the atmosphere, releasing energy in the form of light to create colorful auroras in the night sky. .

The movements of these electrically charged particles can perturb our planet’s magnetic field with enough force to send satellites crashing to Earth, Live Science previously reported, and scientists have warned that extreme geomagnetic storms could even harm the internet.

Eruption of debris from CMEs usually takes about 15 to 18 hours to reach Earth, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Space Weather Prediction Center.

Astronomers have known since 1775 that solar activity waxes and wanes according to an approximately 11-year cycle, but recently, the Sun has been more active than expected, with nearly twice as many sunspot appearances predicted by NOAA. The Sun’s activity is expected to increase steadily over the next few years, reaching an overall maximum in 2025 before decreasing again.

Scientists think the biggest solar storm ever witnessed during contemporary history was the Carrington Event of 1859, which released roughly the same energy as 10 billion 1-megaton atomic bombs. After hitting Earth, the powerful stream of solar particles fried telegraph systems around the world and caused auroras brighter than the light of the full moon to appear as far south as the Caribbean.

If a similar event were to happen today, scientists warn, it would cause trillions of dollars in damage and trigger widespread blackouts, much like the 1989 solar storm that released a billion-ton cloud of gas and caused a blackout across the Canadian province of Quebec, NASA reported.

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This article was originally published by Live Science. Read the original article here.

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