New volatile sunspot grows 4 times bigger than the Earth; Will it unleash a solar storm? | Tech News

New volatile sunspot grows 4 times bigger than the Earth; Will it unleash a solar storm?

A new sunspot has emerged on the Sun, which has grown overnight to gain a size four times the size of the Earth. The sunspot likely harbors an unstable magnetic field and can explode, sparking a solar storm.

By: HT TECH
| Updated on: May 26 2023, 09:44 IST
Think you know our Sun? Check out THESE 5 stunning facts
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1/5 The Sun is the largest object in our solar system and is a 4.5 billion-year-old star – a hot glowing ball of hydrogen and helium at the center of the solar system. It is about 93 million miles (150 million kilometers) from Earth, and without its energy, life as we know it could not exist here on our home planet. (Pixabay)
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2/5 The Sun’s volume would need 1.3 million Earths to fill it. Its gravity holds the solar system together, keeping everything from the biggest planets to the smallest bits of debris in orbit around it. The hottest part of the Sun is its core, where temperatures top 27 million degrees Fahrenheit (15 million degrees Celsius). The Sun’s activity, from its powerful eruptions to the steady stream of charged particles it sends out, influences the nature of space throughout the solar system. (NASA)
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3/5 According to NASA, measuring a “day” on the Sun is complicated because of the way it rotates. It doesn't spin as a single, solid ball. This is because the Sun’s surface isn't solid like Earth's. Instead, the Sun is made of super-hot, electrically charged gas called plasma. This plasma rotates at different speeds on different parts of the Sun. At its equator, the Sun completes one rotation in 25 Earth days. At its poles, the Sun rotates once on its axis every 36 Earth days. (NASA)
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4/5 Above the Sun’s surface are its thin chromosphere and the huge corona (crown). This is where we see features such as solar prominences, flares, and coronal mass ejections. The latter two are giant explosions of energy and particles that can reach Earth. (Pixabay)
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5/5 The Sun doesn’t have moons, but eight planets orbit it, at least five dwarf planets, tens of thousands of asteroids, and perhaps three trillion comets and icy bodies. Also, several spacecraft are currently investigating the Sun including Parker Solar Probe, STEREO, Solar Orbiter, SOHO, Solar Dynamics Observatory, Hinode, IRIS, and Wind. (Pixabay)
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Know all about a new sunspot threatening the Earth with a likelihood of a solar storm. (NASA)

As astronomers continue to monitor the sunspot AR3311 for any signs of eruption, a new sunspot is making a mark on the Sun. This new sunspot was practically invisible to the telescopes of NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). But in just 24 hours, it has grown as big as four Earths combined! This exponential growth is also due to the huge amount of unstable magnetic field it harbors within itself. Scientists had been expecting an X-class solar flare and a resultant solar storm from the existing sunspot, and the addition of this new one will complicate the situation.

According to a SpaceWeather.com report, “Yesterday, sunspot AR3315 was almost invisible. Today it is four times wider than Earth. The fast-growing sunspot is breaching the surface of the sun's southern hemisphere. Its rapid development could lead to explosive instabilities and solar flares”.

Solar storm scare as sunspot grows 4 times wider than the Earth

There are two factors that govern whether a sunspot can explode and send solar storms towards the Earth or not. The first is the size of the sunspot. The larger a sunspot, the higher the magnetic flux it contains within itself. This region conflicts with the rest of the Sun's surface and its normal magnetic field lines. As the conflict increases, the pressure within the sunspot builds up and it explodes. However, not all large sunspots explode.

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This brings us to the second factor which is how concentrated the magnetic flux within a sunspot is. The darker a sunspot appears on the Sun, the higher the chances for explosion. Darker sunspots also have a considerably lower temperature which leads to frequent eruptions so the convection of heat can continue.

Scarily, this sunspot fulfills both these criteria and that's why there is a chance that a severe solar storm can strike the Earth. An extreme solar storm event (G5-class) can cause major damage to our planet. In the worst-case scenario, the resultant solar storm could be equivalent to the Carrington event of 1859 which is the largest recorded solar storm on Earth. A solar storm like that today can be quite terrifying. It can disrupt GPS, hamper mobile networks and the internet, and even cause a massive power outage by corrupting the power grids. Even the electronic devices on Earth are not safe from it.

The role of the NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory

The NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) carries a full suite of instruments to observe the Sun and has been doing so since 2010. It uses three very crucial instruments to collect data from various solar activities. They include Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager (HMI) which takes high-resolution measurements of the longitudinal and vector magnetic field over the entire visible solar disk, Extreme Ultraviolet Variability Experiment (EVE) which measures the Sun's extreme ultraviolet irradiance and Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) which provides continuous full-disk observations of the solar chromosphere and corona in seven extreme ultraviolet (EUV) channels.

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First Published Date: 26 May, 09:12 IST
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