HUGE sunspots turning toward Earth

By Phil Plait | November 6, 2011 7:00 am

As the Sun rotates roughly once per month, we see different features come into view… and the latest is an enormous sunspot system which just came around the limb of the Sun:

[Click to magneticfieldentanglenate.]

That shot was taken by the Mexican "amateur" astronomer CĂ©sar CantĂș, and shows the spots — called Active Region 1339 — from November 4. The size of this system is staggering; the whole thing is well over 100,000 km (60,000 miles) across, and the dark cores are each about the size of our entire Earth!

They’re active, too: On November 3rd they popped off a pretty big X 1.9 class flare:

That image was taken by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory in the ultraviolet, where violent activity is easier to see. NASA made a video of the flare, and you should take a look. It’s pretty amazing.

So we have a recipe for some action here: big spots, known to be active, and they’re riding the Sun’s surface as it rotates them more fully toward us. Over the next week and a half we might get some more flares from them, and maybe some coronal mass ejections… and that means we might get more aurorae. Stay tuned here; if any occur I’ll report them as soon as I hear. Also keep your browser pointed at, which always has the latest info as well.

Image credits: CĂ©sar CantĂș; NASA/SDO

Related posts:

October’s solar blast, seen from the side
Gorgeous aurorae
Solar purrominence
Gorgeous flowing plasma fountain erupts from the Sun

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, Pretty pictures

Comments (25)

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  1. HUGE sunspots turning toward Earth | My Blog | November 6, 2011
  1. Made a point to stop by the Mauna Kea VIS and take a look through the solar rig we keep there. The best sunspot complex I have seen in quite some time. If you have a chance, make the effort to take a look!

  2. Gary Ansorge

    I’m at about 32 degrees north(Georgia, USA). Could a CME produce observable aurora this far south? Haven’t seen such since the IGY in 1957, when I was living in the mountains in the middle of Nevada.

    Southern living misses so much,,,

    Gary 7

  3. Christina Viering
  4. Bette Noir

    Yeah, yeah. Rainy season here in the Northwest: if there is auroral activity, I’ll never see it.

  5. Lupine

    Wonder how long it is before someone says it’s the end of the world.

  6. its the end of the world!!!!

  7. Phil:
    Here’s a question I got yesterday at the NRAO Open House. What is the temperature of a sunspot? I told this guy that the photosphere is 10,800°F and I told him that the sunspot was cooler & thus darker than the surrounding area but I had no answer at hand as to just how much cooler it was.


    I must have gone through my standard solar-astronomy-for-kids mantra 200 times:
    “Now don’t go home and take just any old telescope or binoculars you have there and look at the Sun! You’ll cook you eyeballs. Then your Mom will put ketchup on them & give them to you for supper! Maybe a little salt & pepper… They’ll be delicious, but you’ll be blind and, oh yeah, it’ll hurt! A lot! These are special telescopes that are specifically made for looking at the Sun, so you won’t cook your eyes. Besides that, I didn’t bring any ketchup today, so your eyes are safe.”

    Always makes them smile.
    I was hamming it up with my white coat & Einstein wig:

  8. I’m sure hoping for a coronal mass ejection. I missed those arorae a couple of weeks ago and I am looking for some action.

    BTW: does anyone know where I can find some good information on the path of that asteroid on Tuesday? I only have a 3″ telescope at my disposal and I need to know exactly where it is going to be able to find it. That is assuming it can even be seen by a 3″ telescope. Something that shows its track across a star map like Heavens Above gives for the ISS would be perfect.

  9. andy

    ….it’s the end of the world…..21/12/12

  10. Crux Australis

    Lupine: about 13 minutes.

  11. I took some photos with my own modest equipment; the results are here and here (which is a closeup of the previous photo).

  12. Gordon Knott

    The radiation physics fallacy of a manned mission to Mars is set to be eloquently professed by ISS FUBAR asstronaughts. Do you like your brave space voyagers served medium or well-done? Radiation cataracts are the NASA-admitted default for all of them even during a quiet sun.

    Sunspot AR1339 popped five M-class solar flares in the past 24 hours. Its delta-class magnetic field harbors energy for fat X-class flares and massive coronal ejections aimed dead square at Earth for the coming week. “You will know pain, and you will know fear, and then you will die. Have a nice trip.”
    2005 YU55

  13. Joseph G

    @#8 Richard Drumm the Astronomy Bum: Well, teh Wiki says 3500 to 4500 degrees kelvin, so that’s a pretty significant temperature difference. Of course, as always with Wikipedia, veracity may vary, use at your own risk :)

    I actually just wanted to say that that event sounds (and looks, from those images) absolutely awesome!! Even though it sounds like it was mostly for the younger astronomers-to-be, if I lived out there I’d totally have been there!

  14. alfaniner

    As much as I know about astronomy (which is a fair amount), I guess I never knew that the Sun takes about a month to rotate.

  15. Peter B

    Gordon Knott @ #13 said: “The radiation physics fallacy of a manned mission to Mars…”

    What would be fallacious about it?

    “…is set to be eloquently professed by ISS FUBAR asstronaughts.”

    Could you expand on that statement please?

    “Do you like your brave space voyagers served medium or well-done? Radiation cataracts are the NASA-admitted default for all of them even during a quiet sun.”

    Are you saying there’s no possible protection against this radiation? Are you saying all astronauts have experienced cataracts?

  16. Stathis Dimopoulos

    Perhaps it’s a good time for the scientific community to consider a 360 deg monitoring of the Sun. Three or possibly 4 satellites will do the trick. These should be orbiting Sun of course. The project is easily “sellable” to international telecoms & energy production companies ( to finance it ) . Can you imagine the effect of CME like the one from 1859 hitting us today ? Its like EMP weapons exploding outside earth’s atmosphere. All civilian satellites will be either destroyed or will enter “safe mode” .A great amount of today’s electronics will be “fried”. The rest that will survive , unless rad-hardened, will produce a big amount of errors. Most PC’s will be unable to work, almost all forms of wireless transmissions will be affected. To give you an example of the intensity of the 1859 event , telegraph paper was set on fire by the sparks of the inductive currents produced by the storm , and the current was high enough to allow telegraph to operate without external power. Last but not least think the effect on the ISS and other orbiting manned space vehicles .

  17. hhEb09'1

    The STEREO satellites cover the full surface of the sun, no? The wiki page says they will, until a short time in 2015.

  18. Gary Ansorge

    ,,,and just think, red dwarf stars are much more active than this. I wonder how a civilization could even develop on a planet of such a star, with inductive overloads occurring at random in your telegraph systems. Ok, eventually “they” might figure out how to harden their systems but the expense might well make such systems impractical.

    ,,and the Pony Express remains the only viable rapid info transmission system,,,

    ,,,ok, maybe I WILL write such a story,,,but first, more coffee,,,

    Gary 7

  19. alfaniner

    Wouldn’t it be cool if this thing swung around and zapped that approaching asteroid with a CME? I might have to give some more thought to how the Universe works if that happened.

  20. WJM

    I just projected the sun onto a sheet of white paper, through the little bird-spotting scope I bought at a garage sale this summer.


    It makes you feel like part of the solar system to be able to “see” this right on your living room floor here on Earth.

  21. Joseph G

    @19 Gary Ansorge: I wonder if intelligent beings on such a planet with frequent large solar storms could use inductive current as a source of power? And it’s possible that they simply wouldn’t develop large, distributed power grids, but generate power relatively locally.

    @21 WJM: Pretty cool, eh? I remember the first time I did that. I had a tiny old 2″ refractor, more of a “ship’s spyglass,” really, and I duct-taped it to a camera tripod and used it to project an image of a solar eclipse on the fence behind my house. It was like 3 feet across! Completely blew my freakin’ mind. Interestingly, the part that really grabbed my attention wasn’t the eclipse, but the sunspots I could see…
    That’s the cool thing about the sun, it’s not exactly tough to capture light from it* 😉

    *It goes without saying that no one should ever, ever look through a telescope pointed at the sun, even with filters, unless you have purpose-made filters and you really know exactly what you’re doing. I’m sure everyone here knows that, but it doesn’t hurt to say it yet again 😛

  22. reidh

    Quote: “On November 3rd they popped off a pretty big X 1.9 class flare”
    None of which could possibly contribute to a rise in the overall temperature at the earth’s surface! its the cows man, don’t blame the Sun. Its our friend.

  23. dave

    Those are wonderful pictures of a massive sunspot group. I’ve taken many sunspot pictures but none approach the detail I see here.

  24. Messier Tidy Upper

    @23. reidh : Please see :



    Please. Really. I’m asking nicely.
    Plus ask yourself this basic question :

    Do you honestly think that climatologists would overlook the influence of our Sun and fail to take solar insolation into account when studying Global Overheating? Honestly???

    Just how dumb do you think they all are?

    Did you know our Sun has only just come out of one of the lowest & most prolonged minima on record – but global average temperatures (as confirmed by numerous multiple studies and numerous multiple data sets incl. now Muller’s BEST one) have still risen and 2010 was the hottest year on record?


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