- The biggest herd of sunspots in years, AR1339, has turned toward earth. Will geomagnetic storms and radio blackouts be far behind? (Photo courtesy of David Abbou)
If your GPS device this week starts acting like Captain Jack Sparrow's compass, it could be because the Sun is machine-gunning space with hepped-up electrons and protons that mess with Earth's magnetic field. Or it could be AT&T's fault – that's also very likely.
In the past few days, the Sun has rotated toward earth to reveal the largest magnetically active region on its beaming face since 2005. Solar flares and coronal mass ejections use active regions for launchpads, and this supersized energy field, classified as NOAA number 1339, has already blown out an X-class flare that caused radio communications to go aj@#%laitq$#^98uzzzzz!! (Don't worry: Airline companies plan for these solar interferences.) The danger of more troublesome flares lasts until the region rotates back to the other side of the Sun, which could happen by next Monday or so.
Until then, this screaming hole from hell is providing mighty fine sky-watching for astronomers. Above is one example sent in by David Abbou from Stafford, Va. The gargantuan herd of sunspots is located at middle left. Kids! As pretty as the sunspots are, don't stare directly into them, no matter what the cool clique at school says. Here's Abbou's story:
I heard the largest sunspot group in several years was visible on the sun, so I took some photos of it through my 8" telescope and plain-old digital camera using a special filter which blocks most of the sun's light and damaging rays. The photo was taken on Sunday, November 6.
The sunspot group is supposed to be about 50,000 miles long and 25,000 miles wide. The Earth is about 8,000 miles wide, so several Earths could fit inside the sunspot group.
Here's another vision of Region 1339, captured by NASA on Nov. 3 as it upchucked an X 1.9-class flare. The blast scrambled radio comms on earth about 45 minutes later. For more views of the Sun doing what it does best, check out this image-resource list from NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center.