Sunspot Growing Fast: Solar Storms Possible, NASA Reporting

Thursday, 21 Feb 2013 09:01 AM

By Megan Anderle

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A gigantic sunspot on the sun's surface that is large enough to swallow six whole Earths could be triggering solar flares this week.

Scientists captured the sunspot on camera at NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory as it grew to enormous proportions on Tuesday and Wednesday, reported.

"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," said NASA spokeswoman Karen Fox.

The sunspot region is 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

Because the magnetic fields are intense in the region and point in opposite directions, the area is more prone to 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 middle of an active phase of its 11-year solar weather cycle and is expected to reach peak activity sometime this year. The current cycle is known as Solar Cycle 24.

SDO is one of several spacecraft that constantly monitor the sun's space weather environment.

The news about the solar flares comes after a big flare was unleashed Feb. 9 in the direction of the Earth. The 2:30 a.m. flare sparked a violent sun eruption that hurled a wave of charged particles toward Earth at speeds approaching 1.8 million miles per hour, reported.

Coronal mass ejections, as they're called, take one to three days to reach the Earth. Sometimes, CMEs trigger geomagnetic storms.

In this case, however, NASA says the CMEs are unlikely to affect electrical systems or satellite-based communication systems like GPS, though the flares could light up the sky with beautiful auroras.

Related stories:

Giant Sunspot Blasts Solar Flares Into Space

Solar Flare Erupts, Creating Great Display

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