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These Are Really, Really Big Sunspots Facing Earth Right Now

Sunspot regions 1785 and 1787, with Earth shown to scale. Credit: Guillermo Abramson

Sunspot regions 1785 and 1787, with Earth shown to scale. Credit: Guillermo Abramson

Do you feel like you’re in the firing gallery? These sunspots are practically square-on to Earth right now. Although they haven’t shown much sign of erupting, if they did our planet would be right in the line of fire if a flare or stream of solar particles erupted.

These groups (known as 1785 and 1787) are so big that they are easily visible in amateur telescopes. 1785 alone is more than 11 Earth-diameters across, according to SpaceWeather.com! Just make sure you have the proper solar filters in place before you gaze at these dark smudges.

A black-and-white view of the string of sunspots facing Earth right now. Credit: Paul M. Hutchinson

A black-and-white view of the string of sunspots facing Earth right now. Credit: Paul M. Hutchinson

“Sunspots” — so called because they appear as dark smudges on the face of the sun — are areas of intense magnetic activity on the sun (thousands of times stronger than that of Earth’s magnetic field.)

At times, these regions can get so intense that the energy builds up and releases in the form of a flare and/or a coronal mass ejection — a burst of gas and magnetism that hurls solar material away from the sun.

If these flares hit the area of the Earth, a bunch of things can happen. Particles can flow along Earth’s magnetic lines and lead to the creation of aurora, or Northern/Southern lights. (Here’s an aurora that happened in June.) More severe storms can short out satellites or disable power lines.

“Could it be the calm before the storm?” SpaceWeather.com asked on its homepage, before giving forecasts of strong types of flares: “NOAA forecasters estimate a 55% chance of M-flares and a 10% chance of X-flares on July 8.”

The question has more pertinence given that 2013 is supposed to be the peak of the current 11-year sunspot cycle, but so far it’s been quieter than astronomers expected. Scientists are still trying to figure out how the cycle works.

We’ll keep our eyes peeled and let you know if something interesting happens. In the meantime, these pictures came from Universe Today readers, and we’d love to see your images, too! Feel free to add your snapshots to our Flickr page.

Update, 2:39 EDT: Among the pictures in our Flickr pool is this new stunner below from Ron Cottrell of Oro Valley, Arizona. “These sunspots are so magnificent that I get striking detail with my small 40mm Hydrogen-alpha telescope,” he wrote us.

A large sunspot group taken in July 2013 with a 40mm Hydrogen-alpha telescope. Credit: Ron Cottrell

A large sunspot group taken in July 2013 with a 40mm Hydrogen-alpha telescope. Credit: Ron Cottrell

Update, 2:50 p.m. EDT: On Twitter, Daniel Fischer pointed out that the sunspot group is even visible using a simple camera and eclipse glasses.

The sunspot group visible using a simple camera and eclipse glasses. Credit: Daniel Fischer

The July 2013 sunspot group visible using a simple camera and eclipse glasses. Credit: Daniel Fischer

About 

Elizabeth Howell is the senior writer at Universe Today. She also works for Space.com, Space Exploration Network, the NASA Lunar Science Institute, NASA Astrobiology Magazine and LiveScience, among others. Career highlights include watching three shuttle launches, and going on a two-week simulated Mars expedition in rural Utah. You can follow her on Twitter @howellspace or contact her at her website.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Kapitalist July 8, 2013, 5:50 PM

    I’m looking forward to NASA’s Solar Probe Plus, arriving to close Solar orbit in 2018 according to plan. At “only” 6 million kilometers from the surface of the Sun, that is only 4% of the distance Earth-Sun. Still, it will be about 15 times further away than the distance Earth-Moon, but it will anyway have greater problems than wolves barking at the Moon.

    Besides Earth itself, the Sun is obviously the most important celestial object. We need to go there more often. To understand Earth’s climate and in order to understand all those bright dots in the heaven at night.

    • Andrew Mitenko July 8, 2013, 6:56 PM

      Huh. That’s a pretty good idea for a observation mission.

  • ronaldmsonntag July 8, 2013, 11:32 PM

    Your lead picture was unfortunately ruined by applying the text shadow effect to the whole image. Why would you do that?

    • Guillermo Abramson July 9, 2013, 3:38 AM

      I’m sorry you didn’t like it. I did. And the picture was not ruined, I can still save it without the shadow, just for you! ;-)
      (By the way, I saw the sunspot with naked eyes. Well, filtered with eclipse shades, no optical aid beside my astigmatism glasses.)

      • Gusssss July 9, 2013, 12:35 PM

        I’ll have a look for it today.

        The statement “These groups are so big that they are easily visible in amateur telescopes” is a bit silly, as most spots are visible through a telescope. The real test of a monster is that it’s visible to the naked eye. I have only ever seen half a dozen of those.

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