Sun activity: Week of May 16, 2022

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The sun, seen as a large yellow sphere with small dark spots.
Today’s sun activity with the most active regions labeled (0 UTC on May 22, 2022). Original image, without labels, via NASA SDO. Today’s sun is posted by Armando Caussade. Why are east and west on the sun reversed?

May 22 update: Giant spot shrinking

The drama of sun activity continues, with that big active region, AR3014 – which reached record size this week as the biggest sunspot of Solar Cycle 25 to date – is now beginning to decrease in size again. Can’t you just picture it? The magnetic forces at play on our star, which caused this sunspot to bubble up to monster size … and then lose its steam? The sunspot is still more than five times the size of Earth!

In other sun news, ESA released a dazzling array of new, close-up images, gifs and videos of our star this week, acquired by the Solar Orbiter spacecraft as it passed close to the sun in March 2022. See the sun as you’ve never seen it before, including a new feature dubbed the hedgehog.

Over the past 24 hours, we’ve seen only C-class solar flares. It was a decreased level of activity, in contrast to the day before. The chance for C flares remains at 99%, with a 40% chance for M flares, and 5% for X flares. There are currently no Earth-directed CMEs.

The geomagnetic activity is expected to be at quiet to unsettled, with some increase in activity due to coronal hole effects. Conditions should return to mostly quiet on May 23 and May 24.

May 21 update: Biggest sunspot of Solar Cycle 25 so far

A big active region on the sun, AR3014, has gotten even bigger! It’s now seven times the size of Earth. This region is the largest sunspot group from the current solar cycle, Cycle 25, so far.

Meanwhile, activity for May 21 remains low, with mostly C-class solar flares. But AR3014 – the big ‘un – did produce an M3.03-flare on May 20. The chance of flaring today is 99% for C-flares, 40% for M-flares, and 5% for X-flares.

The current geomagnetic activity is quiet with a chance for a slight increase due to coronal hole effects.

May 20, 2022 Sun LASCO image featuring the Pleiades.
Sun activity today: May 20, 2022. See the star cluster inside that circle? It’s the Pleiades – aka the Seven Sisters – not visible in Earth’s night skies now because it’s currently passing on the far side of the sun, as seen from Earth. Image via NASA/ESA/SOHO.

A week of sun activity: May 12 to 19

May 20 update: Sun activity increasing, sunspot getting big!

Sun activity has increased from low to moderate, due to increasing flaring. Over the past 24 hours, the sun has produced 7 C-class flares, the largest a C7.8, and 4 M-class flares. The largest M-flares, an M5.6, are from between regions AR3014 and AR3017. There are eight numbered sunspot active regions. The most productive regions are AR3014 and AR3017.

AR3014 continues to show the most potential. It has grown in size and complexity. Its classification has the highest magnetic complexity characteristic, called a delta configuration by solar physicists. It indicates that more potential energy has built up. Delta regions are where X-flares typically originate.

AR3014 has grown to over 1000 MH, or millionths of a visible solar disk (hemisphere). This is the standard measure for sunspot size. Earth is 169 MH. The largest regions in recent history are around 3000 MH. And one of the most famous sunspot regions, the great region of 1947, was well over 6000 MH. See the tweet below for historical size comparison.

Coronagraph imagery in recent days has revealed several CMEs, but, currently, none are Earth-directed. We have observed another of the famous sungrazing comets in the SOHO/LASCO coronagraph. SOHO has observed more than 4,370 of this type of comet since 1996. The very cool video in the tweet below shows the comet sailing into the sun.

Geomagnetic activity remains unsettled due to solar wind from a coronal hole.

May 19 update: Small burst of activity

After many days of quiet, sun activity picked up slightly over the past 24 hours, with some moderate flaring on May 18, 2022, and early on May 19. But, overall, activity remains low. The most active regions are AR3014 and AR3017. AR3014 produced an M1.1 flare late in the day on May 18. It was followed by several C-flares and an M1.5 at 10 UTC on May 19. Region AR3017 had the largest flares, a C7.8 at 6:29 UTC and a M5.6 at 7:20 UTC on May 19.

AR3014 is the most promising for continued flaring. The region is growing and has the most complex magnetic configuration indicating the highest potential for activity. The overall flare forecast is a 99% chance of C-flares, 35% for M-flares, and 15% chance for X-flares. The sun has many filaments around the disk and on the limb. Some have erupted, but no significant CMEs were observed.

Geomagnetic activity remains unsettled and should stay so for the next 2 days due to continued influence from solar wind produced by coronal holes.

May 18 update: Calm and beautiful

The Earth-facing side of the sun’s disk now has seven numbered regions. None of which are producing significant activity. We had an M2.4 flare on May 16, 2022, and a C9 flare on May 17. And we saw a beautiful filament eruption off the sun’s northwest limb on May 17. It produced a CME, but it is not Earth-directed.

Geomagnetic activity on May 18 is unsettled, but expected to calm as the current influence of solar wind from a coronal hole wanes. Another coronal hole should increase geomagnetic levels to slightly more active on May 19 – 20. A possible nearby CME passage on May 20 could also keep levels up. This all means slightly elevated auroral levels at higher latitudes. These forecasts are general. If you are in auroral regions it is best to check your local forecast for more precise information.

red quarter globe (the sun) with a loop off the top left (prominence eruption)
Sun activity on May 17, 2022: A prominence eruption off the northwest limb (edge) of the sun. Image captured in a wavelength of 304 angstroms (extreme ultraviolet light) via SDO.

May 17 update: Activity increasing?

During the mornings of May 16 and 17, 2022, from the boundaries of very mild B-class flares, the sun displayed several C-class flares (C5, C5.6, C6.3). Then we saw an even stronger M2.4 flare. All the activity came from the northeast side of the disk, the main player being sunspot region AR3017. Sunspot regions AR3014 and AR3015 also played a role. Although not in X-flare territory, the sun continues to increase in its activity. Stay tuned.

Sunspot region AR3014 showing growth.
Composite comparing May 16 and May 17, 2022. Sunspot region AR3014 is showing growth. Image via Spaceweatherlive.

May 16 update: Sun activity calm and quiet

Much as in the past few days, the sun is quiet. There have been beautiful flares and prominences, but all in the C flare range (“small with few noticeable consequences on Earth”). Sunspot region AR3007 – which rotated into view around May 9 and has provided some activity – has grown in size and complexity. At this time, its activity is low, too, although it’s still in a position to become more active.

Newcomer sunspot regions AR3011, AR3014 and AR3015 have been erupting, even as they were hiding behind the northeastern limb (or edge) of the sun. Strong activity is expected to arise from those regions in the future.

The coronal hole we saw last week has also been growing in size, too. And, looking towards the west, another coronal hole has appeared. Coronal holes contribute to a high-speed solar wind, among other strong solar phenomena.

The sun's face with large black streaks labeled coronal holes.
Coronal holes on the solar disk as of May 16, 2022. Image is a GOES-16 satellite composite, at a wavelength of 195 angstroms. Image NOAA.

A week of sun fun: May 5 to 12

To our readers and community

We invite you all to send us your beautiful recent photos of sunspots and auroras. We love receiving your photos! To those of you who’ve already posted a photo to our community, thank you.

Submit your image here

View community photos here

Recent sun photos from EarthSky’s community

The sun, seen as a pale yellow sphere with small dark spots.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Roland Kueng in Wolfhausen, Zürich, Switzerland, captured this filtered view of the sun on May 21, 2022, and wrote: “Although a cloudy day I wanted to see the big sunspot immediately after reading your newsletter. The clouds give a nice structure over all but still doesn’t hide the solar spot. With good eyes one can find even samller spots left of the monster.” Thank you, Roland!
Section of a large monochromatic sphere with small dark spots.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Patricio León in Santiago, Chile, captured this filtered closeup of the sun on May 21, 2022, and wrote “Huge sunspot AR3014 has already crossed the central meridian of the sun, measures about 8.5 x 3.5 Earth diameters making it the biggest spot of the year so far and quite easy to be seen unaided eye with appropriate solar filter.” Thank you, Patricio!
The sun seen at sunset, with prominent dark spots.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Valerie Liard in Epernay, France, captured this view of the sun on May 19, 2022, and wrote: “Hello EarthSky, here is the photo of the AR3014 sunspot taken at sunset …” Thank you, Valerie!
The sun, seen as a large yellow sphere with labeled small dark spots.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Divyadarshan Purohit at Gurudev Observatory in Vadoara, Gujarat, India, captured this filtered view of the sun on May 20, 2022. Thank you, Divyadarshan!
The sun, seen as a large yellow sphere with numerous dark patches.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Mario Rana in Hampton, Virginia, captured this filtered view of the sun on May 16, 2022, and wrote: “Hydrogen-alpha image of the sun showing various active regions, filaments, and prominences.” Thank you, Mario!

Bottom line: As of May 22, 2022, the drama of sun activity continues, with that big active region, AR3014 – which reached record size this week as the biggest sunspot of Solar Cycle 25 to date – now beginning to decrease in size.

Why are east and west on the sun reversed?

May 16, 2022

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