Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search


Sunspots: Huge and growing fast, says NASA

Sunspots of this size could produce major solar flares, which could disrupt communications on Earth. The latest sunspot is six Earth diameters across.

By Tariq MalikSpace.com / February 21, 2013

The bottom two black spots on the sun, known as sunspots, appeared quickly over the course of Feb. 19-20, 2013. These two sunspots are part of the same system and are over six Earths across.

NASA/SDO/AIA/HMI/Goddard Space Flight Center

Enlarge

A colossal sunspot on the surface of the sun is large enough to swallow six Earths whole, and could trigger solar flares this week, NASA scientists say.

Skip to next paragraph

The giant sunspot was captured on camera by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory as it swelled to enormous proportions over the 48 hours spanning Tuesday and Wednesday (Feb. 19 and 20). SDO is one of several spacecraft that constantly monitor the sun's space weather environment.

"It has grown to over six Earth diameters across, but its full extent is hard to judge since the spot lies on a sphere, not a flat disk," wrote NASA spokeswoman Karen Fox, of the agency's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., in an image description.

The sunspot region is actually a collection of dark blemishes on the surface of the sun that evolved rapidly over the last two days. Sunspots form from shifting magnetic fields at the sun's surface, and are actually cooler than their surrounding solar material.

According to Fox, some of the intense magnetic fields in the sunspot region are pointing in opposite directions, making it ripe for solar activity.

"This is a fairly unstable configuration that scientists know can lead to eruptions of radiation on the sun called solar flares," Fox explained.

The sun is currently in the midst of an active phase of its 11-year solar weather cycle and is expected to reach peak activity sometime this year. The current sun weather cycle is known as Solar Cycle 24.

NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory launched in 2010 and is just one of a fleet of spacecraft keeping close watch on the sun for signs of solar flares, eruptions and other space weather events.

You can follow SPACE.com Managing Editor Tariq Malik on Twitter @tariqjmalik. Follow SPACE.com on Twitter @Spacedotcom. We're also on Facebook & Google+

Copyright 2013 SPACE.com, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • Weekly review of global news and ideas
  • Balanced, insightful and trustworthy
  • Subscribe in print or digital

Special Offer

 

Doing Good

 

What happens when ordinary people decide to pay it forward? Extraordinary change...

Danny Bent poses at the starting line of the Boston Marathon in Hopkinton, Mass.

After the Boston Marathon bombings, Danny Bent took on a cross-country challenge

The athlete-adventurer co-founded a relay run called One Run for Boston that started in Los Angeles and ended at the marathon finish line to raise funds for victims.

 
 
Become a fan! Follow us! Google+ YouTube See our feeds!