NASA reported on Thursday, October 23rd that a giant sunspot was formed on the left side of the sun last week. The space agency also noted that this huge new sunspot had become the largest active region seen in the current solar cycle that started six years ago.
The sunspot region has been named AR 12192, and stretches 80,000 miles across, which is wide enough to fit 10 Earth size planets across its diameter. The new sunspot is visible to the naked eye from Earth, and has already produced a number of major solar flares over the last few days, including two X-class flares and an M-class flare.
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According to historical records, the largest sunspot ever was recorded back in 1947, and it was nearly three times bigger than the current sunspot.
Statement from NASA
“This is the largest sunspot group since November of 1990,” Doug Biesecker, a researcher at the National Weather Service Space Weather Prediction Center told The Washington Post in an interview today.
“A typical sunspot region has a north and south pole but some are more complex with polarity mixed together,” Biesecker explained to the Post. He noted that sunspot region AR 12192 “has some of that mixed polarity, but this region isn’t as scary as the region associated with the Halloween solar storm of 2003 which was more complex.”
“Solar Maximum” stage
Also of note, active regions on the sun are more common right now and for the next year or so as the sun has entered its “solar maximum” stage, a solar phase that occurs every 11 years as part of the solar cycle, and signals a peak in the sun’s activity.
Sunspots are cooler areas on the sun where powerful magnetic fields break through the surface of the sun. These areas also cause solar eruptions, such as flares and blasts of plasma called coronal mass ejections that often lead to auroras as well as disrupt satellites, global positioning systems and other communications.