Bad Astronomy

Sunspot 1158 ain’t done yet

The sunspot that erupted on the 13th, producing an M-class flare (medium to strong), has blown its top again: around 02:00 UT last night it produced a bigger, X-class flare! We’re not in any danger from this, but it’s pretty cool:

I think the location of sunspot 1158 is obvious enough. This is an image from the Solar Dynamics Observatory (which just celebrated its first anniversary) when the flare was peaking. It shows the Sun in the far ultra-violet (and is color-coded as green), where energetic events are more obvious. You can see some other active magnetic regions, too. None of those has produced any flares.


You can read all about how this works in my previous post. While this was a stronger flare – it was an X2 class, making it about 3 times more powerful than the flare from the other day – again, we’re in no real danger from it. But if you live in the extreme north or south you should watch for aurorae over the next couple of nights!

Astronomers keep an eye on these events, and if there is any threat to satellites or astronauts they issue an alert. The Sun is capable of producing flares 20 times more powerful than this one at least (in 2003 we saw a few), and those are enough to do some actual harm to space-based assets. As the Sun gets more tempestuous over the next couple of years, scientists will be watching it very carefully.

Tip o’ the lead shielding to Chris Pirillo. Image credit: NASA/SDO