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