Sun

Sun activity: Big sunspot blasted CME toward Earth January 30

Animated view of sun with solar disk blocked out and wave of light blasting outward.
This movie from the Solar and Heliosphere Observatory (SOHO) shows a coronal mass ejection (CME) blasted from big sunspot region AR2936 early on January 30. The CME is now heading in Earth’s direction, where it has the potential to cause a geomagnetic storm and possible lower-latitude displays of the aurora borealis or northern lights. Estimated time of arrival is February 2. Image via SOHO/ Spaceweather.com.

Geomagnetic storm possible on February 2

The large sunspot region AR2936 – which quadrupled in size this past weekend – released an Earth-directed coronal mass ejection (CME) on January 30, 2022. It’ll take a few days for the charged particles from the sun to travel to Earth. So we might expect a geomagnetic storm and subsequent auroras beginning as early as February 2.

Where might you see auroras? For Alaska, active auroras should be visible overhead beginning on February 2 from Utqiagvik to as far south as Kodiak and King Salmon. In North America, active auroras should be visible overhead beginning on February 2 from Inuvik, Yellowknife, Rankin and Iqaluit to Vancouver, Helena, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Bay City, Toronto, Montpelier and Charlottetown. They might be visible low on the horizon from Salem, Boise, Cheyenne, Lincoln, Indianapolis and Annapolis. For Europe, auroras should be visible overhead beginning on February 2 from Tromsø, Norway, to as far south as Oslo, and visible low on the horizon from Moscow.

February 2 aurora forecast, from AUF

Map of Alaska with cities, most of it covered in wide green arc.
The green band shows the region with the aurora overhead on Feburary 2, 2022. Map via AUF Geophysical Institute.
Map of North America with thick green arc and thin green line across it.
The green band shows the region with aurora overhead on February 2. The green line shows the limit of aurora visible low on the horizon. Map via AUF Geophysical Institute.
Map of Scandinavia and northern Russia with wide green arc over top.
The green band shows the region with aurora overhead on February 2. The green line shows the limit of aurora visible low on the horizon. Map via AUF Geophysical Institute.

January 31 aurora forecast, from NOAA

Map with wide green crescent representing aurora coverage extending to northern Canada.
As you can see from this map, NOAA’s Spaceweather Prediction Center is forecasting displays of the aurora, or northern lights, into latitudes like those in northern Canada on January 31, 2022. The low-latitude auroras won’t come until February 2 (if they come). Forecast via NOAA.

Big sunspot region AR2936

Spaceweather.com reported on January 31:

[The CME] was hurled into space during the early hours of January 30 by an M1-class solar flare. Big sunspot AR2936 was the source of the blast. The long duration flare lasted more than 4 hours, so it put plenty of power into the CME.

Moderately-strong G2-class geomagnetic storms are possible when the CME arrives. During such storms, auroras can spill out of the Arctic Circle into northern-tier U.S. states such as New York, Minnesota and Washington.

The source of the CME – large sunspot region AR2936 – is one of the largest active regions so far in Solar Cycle 25, an 11-year cycle currently on the rise.

Coronal mass ejections are powerful eruptions near the surface of the sun driven by kinks in the solar magnetic field. The resulting shocks ripple through the solar system and can interrupt satellites and power grids on Earth and – more often – cause beautiful auroral displays.

Spaceweather had said over the weekend there was also a chance of X-flares from AR2936.

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AR2936 is much bigger than Earth

Part of sun, in gray, with small irregular black blotches on it and much tinier Earth in corner.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Patricio Leon in Santiago, Chile, added a small Earth in the upper left of this photo, to show you the size of huge sunspot AR2936. He said the sunspot is possible to see with the eye alone and a solar filter. He wrote: “Today is even bigger than yesterday. The Earth put as scale tells us the sunspot is about 9 x 2.5 Earths in size, or some 115,000 x 32,000 km!” Thank you, Patricio!

Big sunspot region AR2936

Moving image of large red sunspot crossing yellow face of sun.
This 2-day movie from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory shows the rapid development of the large sunspot region AR2936 as the sun rotates, causing it to cross the sun as seen from Earth. Image via NASA SDO.

Perfect for backyard scopes with safe filters

Tony Phillips at Spaceweather.com also pointed out that the scale of this sunspot makes it an easy target for backyard telescopes using safe solar filters. He wrote:

AR2936 has multiple dark cores larger than Earth, and the entire group stretches more than 100,000 km [60,000 miles] across the surface of the sun [Earth’s diameter is about 13,000 km, or 8,000 miles]. This is an ideal sunspot for projection techniques.

Stay tuned, and bookmark this post. We’ll update as more info comes in. Also, if you get a photo of large sunspot region AR2936, please submit it here.

Photos of sunspot region AR2936 from the EarthSky Community

Sunset, large sunspot, and 3 big crows crossing the sun's face.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Radu Anghel in Bacau, Romania, captured this image of a big sunspot region (with birds), currently making its way across the Earth-facing side of the sun. Thanks, Radu!
Round sun, in gray, with black irregular spots on it.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Greg Redfern in central Virginia tried shooting AR2936 during the big winter storm that struck the U.S. eastern seaboard this weekend: “This was an incredibly difficult image to obtain due to high winds and gusts, low solar altitude and no thermal acclimation possible due to the need to get the image before the weather got worse. I’m amazed it turned out as well as it did … what a sunspot AR2936 is, the largest in years.” Neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow, Greg! Thanks for sharing.
Oblong white image of sun projected on ground with sunspots showing.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Divyadarshan Purohit at Gurudev Observatory, Vadodara, Gujarat, India, used a projection technique to capture this image of sunspot region AR2936 on January 31, 2022. Thanks, Divyadarshan!
Round orange sun with irregular black marks.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Phillip Schmauder in Colorado Springs, Colorado, captured this image of giant sunspot region AR2936 on January 30, 2022. Thanks, Phillip!
Round yellow sun with sunspots outlined in lighter color.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Aurelian Neacsu in Visina, Dambovita, Romania wrote: “I think this is my best solar image so far :)” Congratulations from EarthSky, Aurelian!

Bottom line: A big sunspot region – AR2936 – produced an M-class solar flare January 30, which has thrown out an Earth-directed coronal mass ejection (CME) due to arrive about February 2. A good display of the aurora or northern lights may appear as far south as the northern tier of U.S. states.

Read more: 7 top tips for observing the sun safely

Posted 
January 31, 2022
 in 
Sun

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