Changing Planet

Monster Sunspot Threatens Earth With Solar Storms

Here is composite image of the Sun taken October 22, 2014 in three wavelengths of light combined from NASA's SDO sun-monitoring satellite. Sunspot group AR2192 is beneath the very bright area in the lower center potion of the sun, which is highlighted by  the X1.6-class solar flare in progress.  Credit: NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory
A composite image of the sun taken October 22, 2014, shows the sunspot group AR 2192 (just below center),  lit by an X1.6-class solar flare. Courtesy of NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory

The solar eclipse may steal the week’s heavenly headlines, but a monster sunspot—the likes of which hasn’t been seen for years—has turned toward Earth and may spew some serious solar storms.

From the moment the gigantic sunspot cluster known as AR 2192 appeared on the eastern side of the sun on October 17, NASA solar scientists knew it was going to be a whopper. As it has rotated into view over the past few days, it has grown larger and is now the size of the planet Jupiter—around 87,000 miles (140,000 kilometers) across.

This makes it the largest sunspot observed in the current solar cycle, which began in January 2008.

The sunspot is so large that skywatchers holding protective filters up to their eyes have seen it on the face of the sun. Photographers using telephoto lenses have also snapped the freckled setting sun.

A word of warning: Never to look at the sun with the unaided eye, as that could damage your vision. The same holds true when using a camera. Use the LCD screen only to frame the shot—never look through the viewfinder at the sun.

The space agency’s solar satellites have continuously tracked the titanic disturbance. Its outbursts have included 27 low-grade, or C-class, solar flares; 8 medium, or M-class, flares; and 2 extreme, or X-class flares—the strongest on the “Richter scale” of flares.

So far, none of the flares have generated any significant solar storms, but scientists say that if any X-class flares pop up in the coming days, a giant cloud of charged particles known as a coronal mass ejection might head for Earth.

The SDO satellite on October 20, 2014 gives a closer look at Active Region AR2192 before it rotated toward Earth. Courtesy of NASA/SDO

Such an outburst could trigger a geomagnetic storm, which could cause communications and power-grid problems. With any luck, it would merely produce some beautiful displays of northern lights.

So what are the chances that Earth will be struck by a powerful solar blast this week?

Unclear. Space weather forecasting is still in its infancy. But we’re under a major solar flare watch, and all eyes are on this menacing beast.

Follow Andrew Fazekas, the Night Sky Guy, on Twitter and Facebook.





Andrew Fazekas, aka The Night Sky Guy, is a science writer, broadcaster, and lecturer who loves to share his passion for the wonders of the universe through all media. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic News and is the national cosmic correspondent for Canada’s Weather Network TV channel, space columnist for CBC Radio network, and a consultant for the Canadian Space Agency. As a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Andrew has been observing the heavens from Montreal for over a quarter century and has never met a clear night sky he didn’t like.
  • Benny


  • Ron Grey

    Can you predict , within a couple of days, when this sunspot activity will create Northern Lights? I’m in Cleveland, Ohio and would love to hit the road and head up to Michigan, Minnesota or wherever, to see them. Thanks.

  • Larissa

    This brings to my mind the final events of Bible prophecy spoken about specifically in Revelation chapter, 16. Those who choose to worship The true & living God, have nothing to fear. We ought to obey God & His law, not man & his law. =] god bless you.

  • Fazilay raza

    I would like to understand what does the earth benifit from thrse flares

  • Farid Sabik

    j’aime le commentaire de larissa c’est écrit aussi au coran que dieu bénisse les vrai croyant au bonne foi

  • Gaurav

    I think it would be a imagination. I want to ask a one question is that how it can be possible. I want to know.

  • Miska Saarikko

    A small edit to your text:

    “A word of warning: Never to look at the sun with the unaided eye, as that could damage your vision. The same holds true when using a camera. Use the LCD screen only to frame the shot—never look through the viewfinder at the sun.”

    -Unless you aren’t using a Neutral Density 3.0 1000x 10 stop filter on your lens, then it’s ok to look through the viewfinder because this reduces the light 10 times down than normal.

  • john edwards

    Here at We are observing constantly just in case we have to issue warnings

  • Vicky Galitsis

    Does anyone know if and when there will be northern lights on the east coast of America when this happens? I would love to experience them.

  • me

    There realy isnt much we can do about it ! All that space trash thats been left up there could be whats wrong ! Just saying !!

  • me

    So even our comments do not deserve the 1st amendent ! You are going to edit my outloud thoughts !

  • Nichol

    So like how rilly is that spot goin to give problems to earth.

  • C Gaul

    Not one of those 5 (maybe 6 by now) X class flares have a CME. Your headline is quite misleading. Time for an update and real talk!

  • The Doctor

    The trees! They’re here to protect you. They always have. And then you will forget, again.

  • ntebaleng

    we face a biggest problem now. Here in joburg has chance the sun is hottest not like before.I was in Botswana the temperature rise up 41 digree celsium at 9am.

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