Yesterday, io9.com writer Robert Gonzalez shared a truly incredible image of a sunspot taken by the New Solar Telescope (NST) at Big Bear Solar Observatory in California. The detail of the magnetically-active region and surface of our home star is simply stunning, thanks to the NST’s new Visible Imaging Spectrometer — literally setting a new record for the most detailed visible-light image of a sunspot ever.
In sharing the image on my Facebook page (you ARE following me there, right? :) ) I was alerted by follower Cody Reisdorf that such images aren’t new; sunspot photos and videos have been being captured for quite some time — albeit not to such a fine degree of clarity — by other observatories, notably the Swedish Solar Telescope (SST) located on the island of La Palma. The video above was made from SST observations in May 2010 by Vasco Manuel de Jorge Henriques of the Institute for Solar Physics. It shows the mesmerizing magnetic movements of a sunspot, which is basically an optically-dark region on the Sun’s surface where upwelling magnetic fields prevent convection from occurring.
It doesn’t have the incredible clarity of the NST image, but it does show the dynamics of the Sun’s surface. Amazing to think these blemishes are each easily as large or larger than our entire planet…incredible!
Thanks to Bob Trembley (another LITD fan) for uploading the video to YouTube… so I didn’t have to.
Video credit: SST/ISP/Vasco Manuel de Jorge Henriques
As you read this, a huge cloud of charged solar particles is speeding toward our planet, a coronal mass ejection resulting from an X1.4-class flare that erupted from sunspot 1520 on July 12. The CME is expected to collide with Earth’s magnetic field just after 6 a.m. EDT Saturday, potentially affecting satellite operations and tripping alarms on power grids, as well as boosting auroral activity. (And this may not be the last we see from this sunspot, either.)
This animation, made from images taken by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, shows active region 1416 as it rotated into view over the past week, doubling in size as it approached the center of the Sun’s disk.
According to SpaceWeather.com’s Dr. Tony Phillips, AR1416 is magnetically charged in such a way as to be ready to release an M-class flare at any time. If this happens over the next couple of days, it will be aimed directly at Earth…
Hot off the presses, here’s a stunning full-disc solar photo by the inimitable Alan Friedman, taken on November 6, 2011 from his location in Buffalo, NY. Absolutely gorgeous!
The enormous sunspot region AR 1339 can be seen just right of the center of the Sun. It’s nearly 17 times wider than Earth!
Hydrogen alpha (Ha) is a specific wavelength of light (656.28nm) emitted by hydrogen atoms. By filtering for just this wavelength of light, details of the Sun’s photosphere can be made out whereas otherwise they’d be lost in the glare of our home star.
Image © Alan Friedman. All rights reserved.
Another fantastic image by Alan Friedman, this shows the massive sunspot region AR 1339 as it appeared on November 5, 2011 while in the process of rotating into view – and aim! – of Earth.
Estimated at about 17 times the width of Earth, AR 1339 contains some gigantic sunspots capable of producing high-powered solar flares. Already it has released a solar flare reaching X1.9 at 20:27 UTC on Nov. 3.
Should it keep up this level of activity we may be seeing more extreme aurorae in the coming week or two as was witnessed in October!
Image © Alan Friedman. All rights reserved.
‘Tis the season…the season for solar activity, that is! Last week was just the beginning, even though it saw some of the most powerful solar flares of the past four years send charged solar particles streaming toward Earth. Luckily our magnetosphere was in such a position to absorb much of it, creating some beautiful aurora for those stationed at points north. Some electromagnetic problems occurred around the globe but, for the most part, it wasn’t too disruptive considering the level of activity the Sun was exhibiting.
Once that particular sunspot region rotated away from direct line-of-sight with Earth we got a look at the next active regions, numbered 1161 and 1162, which sent out their own flares on the 18th and 19th. The animation above was made from SDO images taken with its AIA 131 camera, showing a flash of magnetic energy spreading out between the sunspots in the area. This spans about 40 minutes of actual time with the energy expanding a distance equal to about 20 Earths! Incredible.
These regions on the northern hemisphere of the Sun have since rotated past the direct line of sight with Earth as well, although since solar flares can send out particle clouds that curve and arc through space there is still a danger from M-class outbursts. And there’s another active region currently on the opposite side of the Sun, seen by NASA’s STEREO spacecraft, which is steadily moving into position…it will be facing Earth in about a week. Will that fizzle out or send more flares our way? No way to tell, but with all these eyes on our star we at least have some fair warning!
“We cannot tell if there is going to be a big storm six months from now, but we can tell when conditions are ripe for a storm to take place.”
– Juha-Pekka Luntama, European Space Agency
This is shaping up to be an interesting solar maximum, that’s for sure. Even if we’re lucky enough to avoid any real problems from flares we’ll certainly be getting some amazing views!
Image: NASA/SDO and the AIA, EVE and HMI science teams. Edited by J. Major.