Huge new sunspot may hurl flares towards Earth

Image from the Solar Dyamnics Observatory showing magnetic loops on sunspot
AR2736

Sunspot AR2736, which hurled a Coronal Mass Ejection toward Earth yesterday, is growing larger and crackling with C-class solar flares. The active region now sprawls across more than 100,000 km of the solar disk and contains multiple dark cores as large as Earth, making it one of the biggest sunspots in recent years.

Two days ago, sunspot AR2736 didn’t exist. Now the rapidly-growing active region (movie) stretches across more than 100,000 km of the solar surface and contains multiple dark cores larger than Earth. Moreover, it has a complicated magnetic field that is crackling with C-class solar flares. The sunspot is inset in this magnetic map of the sun from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory:

Sunspots are islands of magnetism floating on the surface of the sun. Most sunspots, like most magnets, have two poles + (N) and – (S). Sunspot ARorio2736, however, has multiple poles with areas of + and – jostling against one another. This is why the sunspot is crackling with flares. Magnetic field lines of opposing polarity criss-cross and explode–a process known as magnetic reconnection.

In the grand scheme of space weather, C-class solar flares are not considered to be major events. However, these explosions are noteworthy now because the sun has recently been so quiet. Solar Minimum is underway. In context, C-flares represent a real uptick in solar activity. They can ionize the top of Earth’s atmosphere, disturb shortwave radio communications, and even hurl CMEs toward Earth. Indeed, one is heading our way now.

From Spaceweather.com

41 thoughts on “Huge new sunspot may hurl flares towards Earth

    • Congratulations.

      From the Space Weather link above there is an image “STEREO Ahead COR2”. It indicates the CME on the right side of the sun. On the exact opposite side is something. Is it a CME? Is it a coincidence?

      • STEREO-A is now behind us in its orbit. Exactly 93.9degrees “behind” us right now.
        So to the right of STEREO-A’s view of the Sun is Earth. STEREO-A has a solar orbit of about 0.94 AU, so it runs inside the Earth’s orbit. And STEREO-B has an solar orbital distance of about 1.07 AU, and it runs slower around the sun than Earth.
        STEREO-B has been lost since October 2014. It’s probably gone for good. But the Earth will gradually catch-up to it, and I’m sure someone at NASA will try to contact it again as we pass it.

        You can see where the STEREO sats are here:
        https://stereo-ssc.nascom.nasa.gov/where.shtml

        For CME’s I like to watch SOHO/LASCO C2 and C3 coronal images (available on the SWPC links). Better resolution than STEREO. But STEREO-A now has the advantage now of being in a good position to monitor an Earth-directed CME.

        • That’s the only solar AR flare prediction I’ve ever made.
          So we’ll see. Most physicists would be incredulous at the mechanism. I was too. I still am skeptical.
          I worked back through historical data that kept telling me I was on to something worth making atestable hypothesis. This AR 12736 is just one half of that hypothesis though.
          But it’s just a hypothesis. Not yet ready for prime-time.
          So I’m certain there are things I’ve missed, and don’t know what I don’t know.
          And the triggering event at the core of the hypothesis is still very much a work in progress.

          The cool thing though is the hypothesis has a very specific prediction to go with it so far. One that will be verifiable in about 15 months from now (June 2020). That means I think it has already happened, we’re just waiting to see the fireworks.

          • Joel,

            You do realise that you are breaking all the rules of climate science by: proposing a hypothesis; making predictions using that hypothesis and then comparing your prediction with the real world. All that whilst remaining sceptical of your own work. Richard Feynman would have been proud of you!

          • Great stuff Mr O’Bryan,
            Way above my head (!) But I do love reading something from a proper scientist.
            A hypothesis, a prediction, and a result. You will never get a paying job!
            Loved the “don’t know what I don’t know” enough of the modesty.

          • “…just a hypothesis…”

            Everything starts with a hypothesis in Science. Then other scientists play Whac-a-Mole to falsify it.

      • Sure!
        PowerBall: 10, 14, 50, 53, 63, and PB 21.
        Trust me.
        Now use your time machine (or Tardis if you prefer), go back 24 hours,
        buy the ticket and split it with me.

    • So you are saying that you have a model or a hypothesis that you wish to compare with real-world observations. It will require more than one prediction before people will begin to take it seriously. Don’t despair, time and careful observation will prove if what you are proposing is a viable explanation of the underlying physics.

      By the way, many people noticed that the west coast of Africa and the east coast of South America appeared to fit together like pieces in a puzzle. This was an example of wiggle matching that led to a revolution in geology. Wiggle matching and the observations that “bary-whateverism-astrology” may suggest a link between one physical phenomenon and another are valid scientific tools. They may not be the sharpest of tools but they are still useful if used carefully as a guide to point towards possible underlying physics-based mechanisms.

    • Great job, Joel.

      At first, I was excited that the sun might be returning to higher activity levels.

      Until checked out the sun…
      Nothing like the sunspots of the 1980s and 1990s.

      Here’s hoping for higher activity levels; but I’m not holding my breath.

  1. On this AR 12376, the sunspot number is now as high as it was in that first week of September 2017 when we got the largest X-class flares of SC24, and a nice pinging of the Earth’s geomagnetosphere as the Ap/Kp values went ballistic. They will do so again Saturday and Sunday as that weak-moderate CME hits the Earth.

    NOAA/SWPC is predicting a G2 level geomagnetic storm for Saturday.
    Will make for nice auroras as far south as the Dakota and New York, clouds permitting.

    If we do get another Earth-directed CME from this thing, the first CME can act as “plow-the-path” through the heliosphere for subsequent follow-on flare-CMEs events to reach Earth with even more power (e-fluence and proton energy) than they would as a singleton. Just something to keep in mind.
    But AR 12736 will be rotated on the limb by Sunday and out of view by Monday regardless. And with STEREO-B out-of-action, we won’t know any thing from this AR after that.

    • Really! (I guess a question-mark would have been more appropriate. But I’m not asking a question!)

      From what I’ve been tracking over the years of your writings, this isn’t anything all that unusual. The “Interregnum” between Solar Maxima is a time of quiet punctuated by remarkable, and blessedly few, sun spots sometimes of outrageous power.

      Did I get that right?

      Having such a “crackling monster” developing (and thankfully according to the ‘movie’, heading toward the east-to-backside rather nicely), really shouldn’t be considered unusual, or as I understand your position, particularly indicative of anything portentious at all.

      Just a great big plasma loop, welling up from the Deep Interior, to vent its energies almost-certainly harmlessly against the plane of the Ecliptic (the spot being fairly equatorial). But not really unusual.

      The unusual part is just how weak Cycle 24 was.
      And tho’ you’ve not yet confirmed it, how possibly weak C–25 might be.

      A friend,
      GoatGuy

      • Did I get that right?
        No, large CMEs and flares are not unusual near solar minimum.
        See e.g. paragraph 10 of https://leif.org/research/Cycle%2024%20Smallest%20100%20years.pdf
        “Average space weather might be ‘‘milder’’ with decreased solar activity, but the extreme events that dominate technological effects are not expected to disappear. In fact, they may become more common. Two of the eight strongest storms in the last 150 years occurred during solar cycle 14 (Rmax = 64) [Cliver and Svalgaard, 2004], while three of the five largest 30 MeV solar energetic
        proton events since 1859 [McCracken et al., 2001] occurred during cycle 13 (Rmax = 88).”

  2. Just goes to show…

    That thinking that the Sun is unusually quiescent in this between-Solar-Max time (AKA: minimum) is just short sighted. Sol’s enormous poloidal and current-sheet (only a ghost-of-a-shadow) magnetic lines are churning away deep under the apparent-surface. Those currents, tera-amp, far-larger-than-earth’s-volume outraged plasmas continue to gin up the dynamo anti-gravi-thermodynamic, anti-inertial, anti-homeostatic and almost incomprehensibly tangled Maxwellian tensors to where every once in a not-so-unusual-time, the Solar Minimum generates very few, but astoundingly powerful outbursts demonstrating the conservation of energy, inertia and momentum.

    Got to love Old Sol.
    She’s a fine old star.
    G2V, so it is said.

    Mainstream.
    Dwarf.
    Yellow.
    Stable (enough for us naked apes)
    Good.

    Just saying,
    GoatGuy ✓

  3. Space weather is the important metric here. Though powerful flares that hit us straight on can be, rarely, a pain in the rear end on Earth where we walk and breath. HOWEVER! The older I get, the less enthralled I am with electronics. If the damn thing cuts out my puter, cell phone, and satellite TV, I just go fishing! Fish don’t care, and I don’t care.

    • Simple: anthropogenic CO2 —> increased global warming (sole cause) —> more water evaporation from Earth’s oceans —> higher relative humidity —> greater extent of Earth’s cloud cover and greater precipitation of snow —> overall increase in Earth’s albedo —> greater incoming solar radiation that is reflected hemispherically back into space —> increase of that portion of Earth’s radiation energy directed back directly at the solar disk —> delta increase in energy at Sol’s surface that is facing the Earth —> trigger for sunspot(s) and accompanying solar flares.

      It all has to do with SSCSER (Solar Surface Climate Sensitivity to Earth Radiation) . . . specific details to be provided later by those skilled in the art.

  4. I see the celebration light display, I requested was approved.
    Should look fantastic on the 29th March at 2300.hr ;-)…..

  5. I wrote this on March 7
    Patrick Geryl March 7, 2019 at 10:18 pm
    I am waiting for the polar field update…
    According to my findings the UNFILTERED polar field strength should have gone up in February….
    This is the reason there are no sunspots and that we will have A MUCH LARGER SUNSPOT CYCLE THEN EXPECTED.

    Last mean strength was 66, meaning cycle 25 will be already 10 percent above the first part of cycle 24…
    Explanation here:
    https://www.researchgate.net/publication/328653713_The_Sun's_Adjusted_Polar_Fields_are_in_Phase_and_not_in_Anti-Phase

    and here:
    https://www.researchgate.net/publication/330441356_Research_Polar_Fields

    In September 2017 the absolute Southern polar field strength was 106-44 = 62
    My guess for this time period for the Northern polar field strength = 82 – 22 = 60
    We will know in a month….

    And here are my findings solar cycle 25 already started:
    .
    Patrick Geryl March 3, 2019 at 12:19 am
    I updated my formulas on Researchgate and stick with my prediction that solar cycle 25 started in November 2018:
    A Formula for the Start of a New Sunspot Cycle
    https://www.researchgate.net/publication/331063430_A_Formula_for_the_Start_of_a_New_Sunspot_Cycle
    And here:
    https://www.researchgate.net/publication/331063430_A_Formula_for_the_Start_of_a_New_Sunspot_Cycle

  6. For me layman having at best half a percent of a clue concerning solar aspects, the synthesis of all these informations provided by Leif Svalgaard, Joel O’Bryan and Patrick Geryl are really helpful.

    Thanks to all three.
    J.-P. D.

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