Although there is a chance that a sunspot pointed toward Earth might produce solar flares, researchers told USA TODAY that this is not at all rare and assuaged worries about how flares would impact the Blue Planet. According to Rob Steenburgh, interim director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Forecast Office, Active Region 3038, or AR3038, has been expanding over the previous week.
He said, “This is what sunspots do.” “They will often develop over time. They go through stages before decomposing.”
According to NASA, sunspots seem darker because they are colder than other areas of the sun’s surface. Strong magnetic fields that prevent heat from the sun’s interior from reaching its surface are where sunspots occur, making them colder.
The simplest way to express it, according to Steenburgh, is that sunspots are areas of magnetic activity.
According to NASA, solar flares are “a quick explosion of energy created by tangling, crossing or rearranging of magnetic field lines near sunspots,” and they mainly emanate from sunspots.
Steenburgh stated, “You may think of it like the twisting of rubber bands. “Rubber bands ultimately become excessively twisted and shatter if they are wrapped around your finger several times. Magnetic fields are different because they rejoin. And a flare is produced as a result of their reconnecting.”
Solar flares are more likely to occur as sunspots get larger and more complex, according to Steenburgh.
C. Alex Young, associate director for science in the Heliophysics Science Division at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, wrote in an email that the sunspot has grown by a factor of two every day for the previous three days and is now around 2.5 times the size of Earth.
Small solar flares are being produced by the sunspot, according to Young, but they “do not have the complexity for the greatest eruptions.” According to him, there is a 30% possibility that the sunspot will cause medium-sized flares and a 10% chance that it will cause massive flares.
The sunspot is a “modest-sized active zone,” according to W. Dean Pesnell, project scientist for the Solar Dynamics Observatory. It “has not expanded excessively fast and is still rather tiny in area.”
At this stage of the solar cycle, he added, “AR 3038 is exactly the type of active zone we predict.”
The sunspot is nothing to worry about, according to Andrés Muoz-Jaramillo, chief scientist of the SouthWest Research Institute in San Antonio.
I want to stress that you shouldn’t panic, he remarked. “They frequently occur, but we are ready for them and doing everything we can to anticipate and lessen their impact. Most of us don’t need to worry about it at night.”
According to Muoz-Jaramillo, there are many intensities of solar flares. A-class flares are the smallest, while the strongest ones are B, C, M, and X. There is a finer scale employing numbers inside each letter class, and the higher numbers signify more intensity.
According to Muoz-Jaramillo, C flares are too faint to significantly damage Earth. Radio transmission at Earth’s poles may be hampered by more powerful M flares. At their worst, X flares can lead to electrical shortages and power outages by interfering with power grids, communication networks, and satellites.
X flares are less frequent than lower-intensity solar flares, according to Steenburgh. According to him, there are normally roughly 2,000 M1 flares, 175 X1 flares, and eight X10 flares in a single solar cycle, which lasts for about 11 years. Less than one every cycle for the greatest solar flares (X20 or more). In December 2019, this solar cycle started.
According to Steenburgh, the AR3038 sunspot has produced C flares. Although there haven’t been any M or X flares from this region, he predicted that in the coming week or so, there may be more powerful flares.