A Giant Sunspot Doubled in Size in 24 Hours, And It's Pointing Right at Earth

A massive sunspot that is directly directed at us has grown to be twice the size of Earth and doubled in diameter in only 24 hours.

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

Dark areas on the Sun's surface known as sunspots are where strong magnetic fields, produced by the passage of electric charges from the Sun's plasma, knot before abruptly breaking. The energy that is released as a result causes coronal mass ejections, which are explosive jets of solar material, and solar flares, which are radiation bursts (CMEs).

"Yesterday, sunspot AR3038 was big. Today, it's enormous. The fast-growing sunspot has doubled in size in only 24 hours," according to Spaceweather.com. "AR3038 has an unstable 'beta-gamma' magnetic field that harbors energy for M-class [medium-sized] solar flares, and it is directly facing Earth." 

The X-rays and ultraviolet light from a solar flare that strikes Earth's upper atmosphere ionize atoms, preventing high-frequency radio signals from reflecting off of them and causing a "radio blackout." During a flare, radio blackouts may be heard over the Sun-lit regions of Earth; these blackouts are rated from R1 to R5 depending to their intensity.

R3 blackouts were generated by two solar flares in April and May over the Atlantic Ocean, Australia, and Asia, according to a recent Live Science post. Solar flares travel 93 million miles on average to reach us, but because light travels at the speed of light, it only takes 8 minutes (150 million kilometers).

According to SpaceWeatherLive, if an Earth-looking sunspot develops close to the equator of the Sun (where AR3038 is), it normally takes less than two weeks for it to traverse the Sun and stop facing Earth.

Earth will continue to be in AR3038's sights for a few more days because it is currently just over halfway across and is located somewhat to the north of the Sun's equator.

The enormous sunspot is less terrifying than it would appear despite its dangerously rapid expansion. According to a blog post by the European Space Agency, the flares it will likely create include M-class solar flares and small radiation storms, which "generally cause brief radio blackouts that affect Earth's polar regions".

The most frequent kind of solar flare is an M-class flare. Even while the Sun periodically produces massive X-class flares, the strongest category, which have the potential to lead to high-frequency blackouts on the side of Earth that is exposed to the flare, these flares are seen considerably less frequently than lesser solar outbursts.

Solar material can also belch from sunspots. The bombardment of solar debris from CMEs is absorbed by the magnetic fields of planets with strong magnetic fields, like Earth, and this results in violent geomagnetic storms.

These storms cause waves of very energetic particles to gently compress Earth's magnetic field. These waves then cascade down magnetic-field lines towards the poles, agitating molecules in the atmosphere and releasing energy in the form of light to produce vibrant auroras in the night sky.

According to a previous report by Live Science, the motion of these electrically charged particles has the power to significantly alter the magnetic field of our planet and even send satellites hurtling toward Earth. Extreme geomagnetic storms have also been predicted to have the potential to completely shut down the internet.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Space Weather Prediction Center estimates that it typically takes 15 to 18 hours for CME-erupting debris to reach Earth.

Since 1775, astronomers have seen a roughly 11-year pattern in the rise and fall of solar activity. However, recently, the Sun has been more active than anticipated, with about twice as many sunspot appearances as NOAA had forecast. It is anticipated that the Sun's activity would increase steadily over the coming years, peaking in 2025 before declining once more.

The 1859 Carrington Event, which produced nearly the same energy as 10 billion 1-megaton atomic bombs, is thought by scientists to be the greatest solar storm ever seen in modern history. The intense solar particle stream that struck Earth caused telegraph networks all over the world to go out of service and auroras to shine as far south as the Caribbean that were brighter than the full Moon's illumination.

Comparable to the 1989 solar storm that produced a billion-ton cloud of gas and triggered a blackout across the whole Canadian province of Quebec, experts warn that a similar occurrence today would result in trillions of dollars in damage and widespread blackouts.

This article was originally published by Live Science