The current solar cycle – Cycle 24, which peaked last year – has been the weakest solar cycle recorded in over a century. During very active solar cycle peaks, the sun’s surface might be blemished with dozens or even hundreds of spots. Not so with the peak of this cycle, and, although we should still be seeing a large number of sunspots as this cycle goes into its decline, there was a day in late April when the sun showed no visible spots at all. So astronomers were glad to see this large sunspot region rotate into view on May 5. It quickly grew to a size many times larger than Earth.
Astronomers call this sunspot grouping AR 2339.
Just as it was coming into view, AR 2339 released a powerful X2-class solar flare.
That flare was associated with a coronal mass ejection (CME); however, the CME was not Earth-directed. Hence, no super auroral display, at least not caused by this sunspot grouping.
But that could still happen, with AR 2339!
Bottom line: AR 2339 – a sunspot group many times larger than Earth – rotated into view on the sun on May 5, after a period of quiescence on the sun. It immediately produced an X-flare!
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.