Nav: Home

Two weeks in the life of a sunspot

August 04, 2017

On July 5, 2017, NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory watched an active region -- an area of intense and complex magnetic fields -- rotate into view on the Sun. The satellite continued to track the region as it grew and eventually rotated across the Sun and out of view on July 17.

With their complex magnetic fields, sunspots are often the source of interesting solar activity:

During its 13-day trip across the face of the Sun, the active region -- dubbed AR12665 -- put on a show for NASA's Sun-watching satellites, producing several solar flares, a coronal mass ejection and a solar energetic particle event. Watch the video below to learn how NASA's satellites tracked the sunspot over the course of these two weeks.

Such sunspots are a common occurrence on the Sun, but less frequent at the moment, as the Sun is moving steadily toward a period of lower solar activity called solar minimum -- a regular occurrence during its approximately 11-year cycle. Scientists track such spots because they can help provide information about the Sun's inner workings. Space weather centers, such as NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center, also monitor these spots to provide advance warning, if needed, of the radiation bursts being sent toward Earth, which can impact our satellites and radio communications.

On July 9, a medium-sized flare burst from the sunspot, peaking at 11:18 a.m. EDT. Solar flares are explosions on the Sun that send energy, light and high-speed particles out into space -- much like how earthquakes have a Richter scale to describe their strength, solar flares are also categorized according to their intensity. This flare was categorized as an M1. M-class flares are a tenth the size of the most intense flares, the X-class flares. The number provides more information about its strength: An M2 is twice as intense as an M1, an M3 is three times as intense and so on.

Days later, on July 14, a second medium-sized, M2 flare erupted from the Sun. The second flare was long-lived, peaking at 10:09 a.m. EDT and lasting over two hours.

This was accompanied by another kind of solar explosion called a coronal mass ejection, or CME. Solar flares are often associated with CMEs -- giant clouds of solar material and energy. NASA's Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, or SOHO, saw the CME at 9:36 a.m. EDT leaving the Sun at speeds of 620 miles per second and eventually slowing to 466 miles per second.

Following the CME, the turbulent active region also emitted a flurry of high-speed protons, known as a solar energetic particle event, at 12:45 p.m. EDT.

Research scientists at the Community Coordinated Modeling Center -- located at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland -- used these spacecraft observations as input for their simulations of space weather throughout the solar system. Using a model called ENLIL, they are able to map out and predict whether the solar storm will impact our instruments and spacecraft, and send alerts to NASA mission operators if necessary.

By the time the CME made contact with Earth's magnetic field on July 16, the sunspot's journey across the Sun was almost complete. As for the solar storm, it took this massive cloud of solar material two days to travel 93 million miles to Earth, where it caused charged particles to stream down Earth's magnetic poles, sparking enhanced aurora.

-end-



NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

Related Magnetic Fields Articles:

New metrology technique measures electric fields
It is crucial that mobile phones and other wireless devices -- so prevalent today -- have accurate and traceable measurements for electric fields and radiated power.
First direct exploration of magnetic fields in the upper solar atmosphere
Scientists have explored the magnetic field in upper solar atmosphere by observing the polarization of ultraviolet light with the CLASP sounding rocket experiment during its 5-minute flight in space on Sept.
New method can model chemistry in extreme magnetic fields of white dwarfs
Approximately 10-20 percent of white dwarfs exhibit strong magnetic fields, which can reach up to 100,000 tesla.
Researchers control soft robots using magnetic fields
Engineering researchers have made a fundamental advance in controlling so-called soft robots, using magnetic fields to remotely manipulate microparticle chains embedded in soft robotic devices.
Steering towards grazing fields
It makes sense that a 1,200 pound Angus cow would place quite a lot of pressure on the ground on which it walks.
Researchers propose technique for measuring weak or nonexistent magnetic fields
Researchers at the University of Iowa have proposed a new approach to sampling materials with weak or no magnetic fields.
Magnetic fields at the crossroads
Almost all information that exists in contemporary society is recorded in magnetic media, like hard drive disks.
Researchers coax particles to form vortices using magnetic fields
Researchers at Argonne created tiny swirling vortices out of magnetic particles, providing insight into the behavior that governs such systems -- which opens up new opportunities for materials and devices with new properties.
Earth's magnetic fields could track ocean heat, NASA study proposes
As Earth warms, much of the extra heat is stored in the planet's ocean.
Simulations by PPPL physicists suggest that magnetic fields can calm plasma instabilities
PPPL physicists have conducted simulations that suggest that applying magnetic fields to fusion plasmas can control instabilities known as Alfvén waves that can reduce the efficiency of fusion reactions.

Best Science Podcasts 2017

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2017. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Oliver Sipple
One morning, Oliver Sipple went out for a walk. A couple hours later, to his own surprise, he saved the life of the President of the United States. But in the days that followed, Sipple's split-second act of heroism turned into a rationale for making his personal life into political opportunity. What happens next makes us wonder what a moment, or a movement, or a whole society can demand of one person. And how much is too much?
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Future Consequences
From data collection to gene editing to AI, what we once considered science fiction is now becoming reality. This hour, TED speakers explore the future consequences of our present actions. Guests include designer Anab Jain, futurist Juan Enriquez, biologist Paul Knoepfler, and neuroscientist and philosopher Sam Harris.