A planet-size sunspot has grown 10 times its size in the past few days

Adverse space weather could head our way.
Ameya Paleja

A sunspot that was a blip a few days ago has now grown ten times its original size and is comparable to the size of a planet now, Live Science reported. Solar scientists are following its activity to see what happens next since the sunspot is aimed directly at the Earth.

Sunspots are regions on the surface of the Sun that have strong magnetic fields which temporarily halt the process of convection in the area. As a result, the region's temperature drops considerably, making it appear darker when observed from the Earth.

Sometimes sunspots end up as eruptions that release intense bursts of energy or even magnetically charged particles from the Sun, which can head straight toward the Earth. These outbursts are called solar flares and are responsible for weather in space, just like the weather on Earth.

Sunspot AR3085

Astronomers keep an eye out for sunspots in their bid to predict how space weather can be. At lower intensities, solar flares are rather harmless. However, at higher intensities, they are capable of disrupting satellite-based radio communication and navigation services and even damaging electrical grids.

Currently, sunspot AR3085 has all their attention since it has been growing in size over the past few days. From a mere blip, the sunspot has grown to a size that is much larger than a planet in the Solar System and has been releasing some solar flares, on and off. Classified as C-class flares, these are still relatively low-intensity flares, but with the sunspot growing larger, the intensity of the flares could also increase.

High-intensity solar flares can take down satellites, too, and give very little warning or reaction time for satellite companies to take evasive action. Scientists are working on an algorithm that can help predict solar flares up to 48 hours in advance but that's work still in progress.

As of now, sunspot AR3085 poses no grave danger to spacecraft. Luckily for humans and other animals, the atmosphere provides a security blanket against the energized particles and radiation coming from the Sun. What we get instead are beautiful auroras that light up the night sky, sometimes in the lower southern and eastern territories of the U.S.

Sunspot with a not-so-normal magnetic field

Our Sun is currently approaching the peak of its 11-year solar cycle, where its magnetic poles switch; the north pole becomes the south pole and vice-versa. This is a period of high solar activity where space weather can get really rough, and scientists have their eyes trained on the Sun to know if a major solar storm is headed our way.

This constant scrutiny of the solar surface also shows us phenomena that are rarely seen or haven't been noticed before. Sunspot AR3088 is a new sunspot that has a rotated magnetic field.

Sunspots seen previously have their magnetic poles aligned +/-, which basically means that the positive pole is on the left while the negative pole is on the right. In the case of sunspot AR3088, though, the positive pole is located on top while the negative pole is located at the bottom, making the sunspot perpendicular to the Sun's equator, Spaceweather.com reported.

Scientists do not fully understand the significance of such a phenomenon and plan to keep an eye on this newly emerging sunspot as well to see if it behaves any differently.

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