Staring Down the Barrel at Sunspot 1158
Do you like staring down the barrel of a gun? This is a fairly good analogy for what the Earth is facing at this moment, as sunspot region 1158 points directly at the planet.
Dr. Tony Philips of spaceweather.com calls the region, “Behemoth”. “The active region is now more than 100,000 km wide with at least a dozen Earth-sized dark cores scattered beneath its unstable magnetic canopy. Earth-directed eruptions are likely in the hours ahead.”
The NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center has issued an X-Ray Flux Alert measuring R2 on the NOAA space weather scale.
Translation: Limited blackout of HF radio communication on sunlit side, and degradation of low-frequency navigation signals.
Further Translation: Not that big of a threat to you and I, at the moment.
Given the dramatic size of the sunspot region, and even though the current progression of solar cycle 24 is lower than originally forecast, nearly any given sunspot region, even this one, could still pose a threat to our way of life.
The Carrington event of 1859 should always serve as a reminder of our high-tech vulnerability to a large eruptive radiation event from our neighbor, 93 million miles away.
We’re ‘sitting ducks’ so to speak, over the next few days, and will be again at some point in the near future as sunspots rise and sink into the conveyor region of the sun.
This region is only shooting C-class flares at this time, and all looks safe so far.
We haven’t kept records of such events like the Carrington event long enough to know how often they happen. All we can do is watch the show, and be reasonably prepared to make it through life should we lose the conveniences of modern technology for a time.
Sunspot Region 1158 shot off the biggest flare of the year so far, a category M6.6 aimed directly at earth.
The ultraviolet flash of radiation sent radio bursts of electromagnetic energy which was detected on earth minutes later (It takes 8 minutes at the speed of light to reach the earth), and can be seen in the image below as captured from the SDO, Solar Dynamics Observatory.
The flare also released a CME, Coronal Mass Ejection, which will reach the earth on February 15.
The strongest solar flare in 4 years was unleashed from sunspot region 1158 on February 15 as it fired off a X2.2 flare!
The ‘x-class’ is the highest scale in the rating system used to classify solar flares.
C (1 – 9) Small; with few noticeable consequences here on Earth
M (1 – 9) Medium; they can cause brief radio blackouts that affect Earth’s polar regions
X (1 – 9) Big; can trigger planet-wide radio blackouts and long-lasting radiation storms
The NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center has been very active while releasing reports and warnings regarding the recent flurry of activity.
Outlook For February 16-22
R1 (Minor) and R2 (Moderate), with possible R3 (Strong) Radio Blackouts are expected through 21 February.
The X2 flare was also associated with a large CME (Coronal Mass Ejection) which can be seen in the following image. It is startling to realize the size of the CME while comparing to the diameter of the sun within the white circle of the image.
The CME is expected to arrive at Earth as early as February 16, Wednesday, and may produce vivid Aurora displays, even at lower regions that normally do not see the Aurora.
Less than a week ago, sunspot 1158 didn’t exist. Now it is wider than the planet Jupiter and unleashing the strongest solar flares since Dec. 2006. Click on the arrow to witness the amazing 5-day development of this active region, courtesy of NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory:
video of sunspot 1158 development
Video of the X2 flare and CME. This is a shorter video version that is trimmed to just the flare and CME event (loop it for effect), originally available at spaceweather.com.
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