A huge “archipelago” of sunspots 15 times wider than the Earth was discovered on the Sun (7 photos + 1 video)

Category: Space, PEGI 0+
24 November 2023

NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured images of the Sun's surface showing a cluster of sunspots resembling a large archipelago of islands. Scientists fear that this "archipelago" could bombard our planet with solar flares that could cause blackouts.

The images were taken by the Solar Dynamics Observatory, which has been observing the Sun from space for more than ten years.

Sunspots are cooler areas on the surface of the Sun that result from strong changes in its magnetic field. They look small in the images, but collectively the “archipelago” is 15 times the diameter of the Earth and about 200,000 km across.

Scientists warn that strong flares of energy may occur from the sunspot region towards the Earth, causing geomagnetic storms that pose a danger to power grids and satellites.

This 24-hour video from the Solar Dynamics Observatory shows sunspots on November 18

Sunspots appear dark on the surface of the Sun because they are cooler than other areas. These planet-sized dark spots are associated with solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs)—giant, violent bursts of energy on the Sun that are collectively called solar storms.

Solar flares and CMEs are the focus of astronomers' attention due to concerns that they cause space weather events that affect Earth.

Huge clouds of electrified gas, ejected into space as a result of these phenomena, move at speeds of hundreds of kilometers per second and fall into the Earth's magnetic field system.

This could affect technologies on our planet such as power grids, communications, GPS navigation, air travel and satellites, as well as causing beautiful auroras.

According to the website Space Weather, which regularly monitors the interaction of the Sun and Earth, this group of sunspots was predicted even before the Solar Dynamics Observatory recorded it.

“The group of sunspots is so large that it influences the oscillations of the entire Sun,” the report said. “Helioseismologists used tremors to detect this group of sunspots while they were still on the far side of the Sun. The latest seismic maps confirm that we have not seen all the spots: some of them are still bending around the edge of the Sun.”

According to earthsky.org, the strongest solar flares of two types - M and X - may be directed at Earth in the coming days.

M-flares can cause brief radio blackouts in Earth's polar regions and small radiation storms, while X-flares can cause "planetary radio blackouts" and long-lasting radiation storms.

Chris Wiklund, a meteorologist at Minnesota State, noted that sunspots are "flashing all the time" and that the next two weeks "could be very interesting" as particles make their way to Earth. He called this phenomenon the largest sunspot region he had seen during the current solar cycle.

A solar cycle is a cycle through which the Sun's magnetic field goes through approximately every 11 years, after which it reverses completely and the Sun's north and south poles switch places.

The current solar cycle number 25 began in 2019 and is expected to last until approximately 2030.

According to NASA, as the Sun's magnetic field changes, so does the activity on its surface. At the beginning of the solar cycle (solar minimum), the Sun has the fewest number of sunspots, but over time, solar activity and the number of sunspots increase (solar maximum).

Although during solar minimum the sun's stormy surface takes on a calmer, almost idyllic appearance, this feigned calm can lead to solar storms. Solar storms during solar minimum occur due tofor the occurrence of solar flares - explosions on the Sun, when energy accumulated in “twisted” magnetic fields is released.

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