Nearing solar minimum, a sunspot takes aim at Earth – large solar flares possible

At present, we are closing on the solar minimum. So far in 2018, a total of 18 days (45%) have been without sunspots. But we have one now, a large one that surprised sunwatchers as it rotated into view February 4th. It’s at a place very near the equator, such that if it fires off a solar flare and/or coronal mass ejection (CME), we could very well see it on a direct collision course with Earth.

The positioning is similar to the 1859 Carrington event, which hurled a huge CME directly at Earth, the largest ever observed. A solar storm of this magnitude occurring today would cause widespread disruptions and damage to a modern and technology-dependent society. The solar storm of 2012 was of similar magnitude, but it passed Earth’s orbit without striking the planet.

click for larger image

Sunspot AR2699 continues to grow, more than doubling in size since it appeared on Feb. 4th. This movie from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory shows the sunspot expanding and turning toward Earth:

Earth shown to scale compared to the AR2699 sunspot group – click image for a time lapse movie.

The sunspot has developed an unstable “beta-gamma” magnetic field that harbors energy for M-class solar flares. NOAA forecasters estimate a 15% chance of such explosions on Feb. 9th.

AR2699 contains two primary dark cores larger than Earth and a scattering of moon-sized magnetic condensations stretching more than 100,000 km across the surface of the sun.

Let’s hope it stays quiet as it rotates into direct view of Earth.


Free: Solar Flare Alerts.

Via NASA spaceweather.com

UPDATE: about an hour after publishing, some minor edits were made to the title and first paragraph to clarify that we are nearing the solar minimum, not at it. – Anthony

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55 thoughts on “Nearing solar minimum, a sunspot takes aim at Earth – large solar flares possible

  1. :Product: Forecast Discussion
    :Issued: 2018 Feb 09 1230 UTC
    # Prepared by the U.S. Dept. of Commerce, NOAA, Space Weather Prediction Center
    #
    Solar Activity

    .24 hr Summary…
    Solar activity remained very low. Region 2699 (S07E20, Dai/beta)
    continued to produce several B-class enhancements. The region exhibited
    some consolidation in the trailer spot and slight dissipation among the
    intermediate spots. No Earth-directed CMEs were observed in available
    coronagraph imagery.

    .Forecast…
    There is a chance for C-class flares over 09-11 Feb, with a slight
    chance for an isolated M-class flare on 9-10 Feb, due to activity
    associated with Region 2699.

    Got this from, http://services.swpc.noaa.gov/text/discussion.txt

    • Wasn’t the Carrington event an X class flare? A couple orders of magnitude greater than what 2699 is supposed to be capable of producing? This article strikes me as more typical of the sky is falling doom and gloom I see in the MSM…

      • Yes, it was an x class flare, but Earth’s magnetic field was stronger then. Having said that, it wreaked a lot of havoc with the telegraph system. A less strong flare could potentially cause us more harm thanks to the weakening of our magnetic field, not to mention cosmic rays which are on the increase.

  2. The sun’s spin pole is largely tipped away from us at the moment so I suspect that little group will rise just a tiny bit to be at dead centre by the time it’s facing us. This is assuming I’m right in eyeballing it as being just under halfway up the disc at the moment. I don’t have a ruler on me. Sun tilt to ecliptic: ~7°.

  3. What about the rotational factor in the CME as it explodes from the Sun as in the images from the 2012 case? It’s not exactly a line of sight issue right?

      • Followup question: Would there be any value to science of having sensors on the Moon and Mars to measure CMEs in the absence of magnetic fields or can we get the same information today from satellites and the ISS?

      • The flow of any one particle is outwardly orthgonal and remains so as it flows out into the solar system from the solar surface. But the rotation of the sun, if we visually track a stream of particles, gives the appearance of a garden sprinkler.

        The solar wind particles themselves are NOT following curvilinear trajectories. But like a movie is nothing but a digital string of fixed frames moving past our visual perceptions, we are fooled to see smooth curving motion by the sun’s rotation.

      • Assuming a 2 day travel time for a cme it would still need to lead us by about 3.2 mm miles as that’s where we’d be when the stuff got here. Use whatever travel time for the cme you want but we are moving in our orbit around the sun at about 67, 000 mph, per my less than reliable Internet info. Then there is of course the width of the cme? But we are a moving target.

      • The CME moves 28 times faster at about 1,940,000 mph, so we are almost stationary seen from the CME which in any case has a width of the order of 60 degrees, so it will hit us.

      • “Shotgun! Shoot em for they run!” Courtesy of Junior Walker. I then assume that all the cme’s that miss us are due to significant misalignments when they originate?

      • Even at 2mm mph it will take, what, 45 hours to get here and we will be 3mm miles farther along our orbit so we are not “standing still”. Must be the 60 degrees which gets us, ie the width.

      • So, a CME is akin to a bullet fired from a gun, ….. and not like a beam of light from a flashlight, right?

  4. Here’s one for Leif to rebut.
    Reduced energy from the sun might occur by mid-century—now, scientists know by how much
    February 7, 2018, University of California – San Diego

    https://phys.org/news/2018-02-energy-sun-mid-centurynow-scientists.html

    I’m on the fence, but seems to me SC 24 looks a lot like SC14 and then that suggests SC25 might look like SC 15. I understand Leif’s observations and predictions based on the current polar filed strengths as decent predictor of SC 25. But I also see other papers that use dynamical modelling to suggest SC25 might be the first of several grand minimum cycles.

    One thing I do know: The sun is and will be the final judge and executioner of solar physicist reputations bent on making predictions.

    • One thing I do know: The sun is and will be the final judge and executioner of solar physicist reputations bent on making predictions.

      It is a pity that some of us (me, in particular) will not be around to smile gently and say “See! I told you!”

    • Joelo
      Thanks.

      Predictions are well – interesting.
      Maybe his cojones are bigger – maybe not; it’s reputational damage at worst.
      Understand that that is not wanted.

      However.
      Besides resilience – in the event of another Carrington Event – what can [or should] be done to protect homes, communities, nations and our civilisation if we are –
      AAA Heading towards a Grand Minimum?
      BBB Not heading towards a Grand Minimum?

      And, I suppose: –

      CCC Is there any meaningful difference?

      A personal concern of mine.
      Shipping, generally, uses magnetic compasses as the ‘get you Safe’ option. Sextants, and sun- and star-sights also fall into this small field of things that will work – even if the internet is down for a week or a month – or a year! With updated charts [which could be electronic, but it makes sense to have a few paper charts!] you can certainly get safe. Maybe not home, but safe.

      If and when [and I may be hugely vastly premature in raising this!!] magnetic moment decreases, shipping will – for years/decades/centuries depend on gyros, which are fallible. Is there any clear idea of how much notice we – as a society – will get of the final decline of magnetic moment before the poles swap?

      Auto

  5. Excuse me while I go to the kitchen to get the aluminum foil.
    Need to protect what is left of my brain cells.
    :)

  6. http://www.foxnews.com/science/2018/02/08/why-sun-will-soon-get-dimmer.html

    One simulation of a grand minimum on the Earth’s current climate anticipates a reduction of solar warming by 0.25 percent over a 50-year period between 2020 and 2070.

    While the global average surface air temperature appears to cool by “several tenths of a degree Celsius” in the initial years, this reduction was rapidly overtaken by ever-increasing trends.

    “A future grand solar minimum could slow down but not stop global warming,” the study finds.

  7. How could one create a computer program that could detect the flare and shutdown critical systems before the flare reached earth. Is there any real-time data stream that can be linked into ?

  8. I took in all the comments, but have to ask what needs to be protected at my house?

    The thermostat for my furnace is on an electric circuit, has a digital readout and is currently set on automatic. How will something like that be affected by this event? Is my furnace going to stop running?

    What can I do to protect common household objects like my thermostat and fridge and my cell phones? Will I lose my entire list of contacts to this event? Will it destroy the batteries in my cell phones?

    How do I protect my computer and my backup drives?

    Do I have to shut down the entire house when this happens, to avoid an electrically-induced fire?

    It would help if someone can provide some reasonable answers. The Carringon event created an unanticipated problem in that the telegraph wires hit by that EMP overheated because they were not insulated. They were bare copper wires. They not only stopped transmitting messages, but also set telegraph stations on fire. That’s the reason I’m asking these questions, which may seem silly but are not.

    • Not to fear Sara,
      You will have plenty of time to figure out all those items because your electricity will be off for a few days/weeks/months depending on how bad the wheels of society come off. Warm blankets, canned food, some good books, candles, 12 gauge pump shotgun.

      • I wais I had known this sooner. I have all of the above but only a weeks supply of food. I hope I do not have to shoot one of the horses or the eagles that live on rattlesnake hill.

    • @ Sara – February 9, 2018 at 5:22 pm

      Do I have to shut down the entire house when this happens,

      Sara, a really strong CME will induce a high voltage into most everything that is electrically conductive, regardless of whether or not said “thing” is connected to your house wiring ….. or whether or not your house wiring is connected to an external power supply or electrical grid.

      The results of a direct “hit” by the CME radiation would be kinda like plugging your 110V vacuum cleaner into a 240V electrical wall outlet.

      Sara, re-read Mike Wryley’s advice up above.

    • Okay, so basically, just hit the circuit breaker box in the laundry room and shut off the main line.
      Well, with enough warning, the ComEd will just shut down the whole power grid anyway, until the thing passes, and I’ll have to go back to starting the stove top with matches and keep the doors shut until I get a text message from the phone company. (Yes, the phone company, because that’s how dumb some companies are. They’ll text you even if you have a land line, not a tablet.)

  9. Nice call as the sun obliges within 24 hrs, from Solarham today:

    “Sunspot group 2699 continues to transit the Earth facing side of the sun and is now approaching center disk. The active region did manage a minor C4.6 flare a few hours ago at 13:21 UTC. New spot formation is being observed today within the center of the cluster and perhaps this will boost the chances for additional flares. There will remain a chance for an isolated moderate M-Flare. Stay tuned to SolarHam.com for the most up to date information.”

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