Monster Sunspot Erupts with an X-Class Flare

by Nancy Atkinson on January 7, 2014

Image of the X1.2 class solar flare from the Sun on January 7, 2014, as seen from the Solar Dynamics Observatory.

Image of the X1.2 class solar flare from the Sun on January 7, 2014, as seen from the Solar Dynamics Observatory.

Solar astronomers have been keeping an eye on giant sunspot AR1944, and as it turned towards Earth today, the sunspot erupted with a powerful X1.2-class flare. NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center said the flare sparked a “strong radio blackout” today, and they have issued a 24 hour “moderate” magnetic storm watch indicating a coronal mass ejection (CME) associated with the flare may be heading towards Earth. A CME is a fast moving cloud of charged particles which can interact with Earth’s atmosphere to cause aurora, so observers in northern and southern latitudes should be on the lookout for aurora, possibly through January 10.

Here’s a video of the flare from the Solar Dynamics Observatory:

The SWPC forecasters said they are anticipating G2 (Moderate) Geomagnetic Storm conditions to occur on January 9, followed by G1 (Minor) levels January 10. NOAA estimates the CME headed towards Earth might produce a Kp number of 6.

The Earth-directed CME launched from AR1944 at 1832 UTC (1:32 p.m. EST) on January 7. Here’s an animation of the CME. Astronomers have said that this sunspot region remains “well-placed and energetic” so there could be subsequent activity.

A closeup look at sunspot AR1944 on January 6, 2013, comparing its size to Earth. Credit and copyright:  Ron Cottrell.

A closeup look at sunspot AR1944 on January 6, 2013, comparing its size to Earth. Credit and copyright: Ron Cottrell.

According to SpaceWeather.com, AR1944 has “an unstable ‘beta-gamma-delta’ magnetic field,” making it ripe for activity. Here’s a quick video of today’s X-class flare showing the coronal wave:

AR144 as seen on January 7, 2014. At the bottom are size comparisons to Earth and Jupiter. Credit and copyright: Giuseppe Petricca.

AR144 as seen on January 7, 2014. At the bottom are size comparisons to Earth and Jupiter. Credit and copyright: Giuseppe Petricca.

The Solar Dynamics Observatory has a “self-updating” webpage showing the latest views of the Sun in various wavelengths.

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also works with Astronomy Cast, and is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

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