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A pair of massive sunspot swarms, some large enough to devour the Earth whole, have appeared on the surface of the Sun, increasing the chance of an intense solar storm.
Sunspots are dark regions of the Sun where it is cooler than other parts of the surface. Solar flares originate close to these dark areas of the star.
Recently, space weather forecasters spotted two ‘active regions’ known as AR2993 and AR2994 – swarms made up of a number of sunspots – in the past few days.
Solar flares and coronal mass ejections come from these regions, and when they explode in the direction of Earth, they can result in geomagnetic storms that produce beautiful auroras, as well as pose a danger to power grids and satellites.
It isn’t yet clear whether these new dark spot swarms will result in solar flares that hit the Earth, but astronomers predict it is possible in the coming weeks.
Sunspots are caused by magnetic disruptions in the photosphere of the Sun, exposing the cooler layers underneath – appearing as a black spot.
Solar flares can erupt in these regions, sending plasma and charged particles out into space – some of which head towards the Earth.
When they reach the planet, they run down the magnetic field, creating aurora such as the northern lights, but can also result in power outages and internet issues.
Earlier this month the Earth narrowly missed a plasma ejection, linked to a sunspot group that had appeared earlier on the star. If it had hit the planet, it could have resulted in risks to astronauts in space, as well as satellites and power grids.
The recent increase in activity from the Sun is the result of it coming towards the most active phase in its 11-year solar cycle – hitting peak activity in 2024.
‘I’m sure we shall see larger active regions over the next few years,’ according to solar physicist Dean Pesnell from NASA, speaking to Live Science.
‘Active regions 2993 and 2994 are middling in size and don’t represent the best that Solar Cycle 25 can produce.’
Courtesy: Daily Mail/NASA