A 'corpse' sunspot just exploded, fired a plasma ball toward earth. Should we worry?

Sunspot AR2987 has just exploded ejecting energy and plasma towards us.
Christopher McFadden
Sunspot AR2987SpaceWeather

A presumed dead sunspot exploded on the 11th of April sending large amounts of solar material in our direction. The exploding "corpse" sunspot, AR2987, has sent large amounts of radiation out of the Sun's surface, also triggering a coronal mass ejection (CME).

According to sources like SpaceWeather.com, the mass of Solar material and energy should impact Earth on the 14th of April and will likely result in little more than an intensification of the Northern Lights. So don't worry, it won't be a world-ending event.

Sunspots, in case you are unaware, are dark regions of the Sun's surface that are caused by an intense magnetic flux from the Sun's interior. These spots are usually temporary phenomena and can last anywhere between a few hours and a few months. 

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According to Philip Judge, a solar physicist at the High Altitude Observatory at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), "corpse" or "dead" sunspots are more of a poetic term than a scientific one per se. The term is used to simply denote the process of the Sun's convection breaking up these spots over time, leaving magnetically-disturbed bits of the quiet solar surface.  

"Occasionally," Judge wrote Live Science in an email, "sunspots can 'restart,' with more magnetism appearing later (days, weeks) at the same region, as if a weakness was made in the convection zone, or as if there is an unstable region under the surface that is particularly good at generating magnetic fields beneath." 

The sunspot explosion occurred at 5:21 Universal Time (UT) releasing what is classified as a C-class solar flare. These flares occur when the plasma and magnetic fields above the sunspot collapse and accelerate outwards. 

These kinds of flares are actually pretty common and rarely cause any impacts on our planet directly. Sometimes, as with yesterday's eruption, solar flares can trigger coronal mass ejections, which are huge eruptions of plasma and magnetic fields from the Sun that travel outward into space at millions of miles per hour.

This is a less common event, and the resulting CMEs are usually slow and relatively weak. 

When such CMEs actually arrive and impact Earth, our magnetic field forces the charged particles to deflect along the magnetic field lines towards the poles. Once there, they interact with the gases in the polar atmosphere, releasing energy in the forms of photons and creating the shifting, dazzling curtains known as the aurora – the northern and southern lights.

For those interested, here is the explosion is in all its glory.

When sunspots are not spewing coronal material towards Earth, we are normally bombarded with streams of particles from the Sun, called the solar wind. This is enough to trigger aurora all year around. 

During these more violent events, however, these natural phenomena tend to become more vivid than normal. 

For example, a so-called "cannibal CME" raced toward Earth at the end of March, triggering auroras in Canada, the northern US, and New Zealand, Space.com reported

We may experience a minor geomagnetic storm in the days ahead

According to experts on the subject. the recent CME released by the "corpse" sunspot may trigger something called a G1 minor geomagnetic storm. This could result in some satellites being impacted, losing some operations, or power grids on Earth suffering from some minor fluctuations. 

It may even be possible that the aurora could become visible at lower latitudes than usual, as far south as northern Michigan and Maine.

This event is interesting but nothing to worry about as it is fairly typical for the Sun. According to the Solar Influences Data Analysis Center, part of the Royal Observatory of Belgium, we are currently in a period of increased activity for our nearest star, which goes through periods of quiet and activity known as solar cycles.

In fact, it is currently in "Solar Cycle 25", or the 25th since formal observations began in 1755. During these cycles, the number of sunspots tends to rise and is expected to peak in 2025. We should, therefore, see a corresponding increase in solar storms and auroras here on Earth. 

Strong geomagnetic storms were also observed on Sunday (April 10). But according to the Solar Influences Data Analysis Center, there have been no other Earth-directed CMEs observed in the past 24 hours other than the one spit out by AR2987's remnants. 

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