On Wednesday, February 20th, NASA announced that its scientists had spotted (pun intended) a massive sunspot forming on the surface of the sun.
The sunspot is labeled AR1678, and it quickly formed into a surface area six times larger than the planet Earth. NASA captured the growing sunspot at the Solar Dynamics Observatory – a process that only took 48 hours from February 19th through the 20th.
The unstable configuration of intense magnetic fields led scientists to believe that the massive sunspot will likely erupt with strong explosions into M-flares, and potentially X-flares within the next 24 hours. (2)
There is a 45% chance of M-flares, which are medium-sized flares that could create minor radiation storms in the Earth’s atmosphere, and might lead to some radio interference on Earth. However, there is a 15% chance of X-flares, which are considered “major events” that can create radio blackouts across the entire planet. Large enough X-flares directed directly at the Earth can actually affect power grids.
How Big Is This Sunspot Activity?
In November of 2011, there was a sunspot that was described as one of the largest to appear on the sun in years. That sunspot was approximately three times larger than the planet Earth.
By comparison, the sunspot to appear on February 19th and that grew over the next 48 hours is twice the size – six times larger than the planet Earth.
In a 2012 ABC article, another massive sunspot cluster sparked similar concerns, but NASA advised reporters that unless the magnetic field of the particles were oriented in a specific way to penetrate through to the Earth, there was nothing to worry about.
One NASA scientist told reporters:
“There’s really nothing to be afraid of [in the case of a power grid failure]. It’s typically only electronics and machinery that are affected.”(4)
The statement overlooks the fact that nearly every aspect of society today is heavily dependent upon electronics.
To keep an eye on this emerging event, visit the Solar Dynamics Observatory news page and keep an eye out for news about what size of solar flare erupts from this massive sunspot.
Whether or not this particular solar event leads to disruptions on Earth, the fact is that the sun is now entering into its solar cycle peak from the early to middle part of 2013.