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Earth-Facing Sunspots Could Erupt This Weekend

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Sunspot region 1476

Click to see full image, with diameters of Earth and Jupiter for scale. Credit: NASA/SDO

Space weather forecasters are keeping a close watch on a large collection of sunspots that could unleash blasts of energy or charged particles toward Earth in the coming days. Sunspot region 1476, the dark patch resembling the Hawaiian Islands in the photo at left, is located near the center of the sun’s face as seen from Earth but has yet to act out in any major way. Sunspots are concentrations of magnetic flux on the sun’s surface, which often give rise to eruptive phenomena such as solar flares (releases of radiation) or coronal mass ejections (great belches of plasma).

Earth-directed coronal mass ejections, or CMEs, can cause geomagnetic storms that disrupt satellite communications or fry electrical transformers and damage power grids. (They also produce lovely aurorae at latitudes well below the poles.) The most recent bulletin from the National Weather Service Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) forecast that Earth’s geomagnetic field was “expected to be at quiet to unsettled levels with a chance for active periods” from today through Sunday, May 13.

The sunspot region, notes the SWPC, “continues to dissipate its energy in relatively small bursts of modest flares and weak CMEs. That output belies its appearance—large sunspots and entangled magnetic fields. Forecasters are vigilant, watch here should things break loose.”

About the Author: John Matson is an associate editor at Scientific American focusing on space, physics and mathematics. Follow on Twitter @jmtsn.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. Rev.Corvette 8:46 pm 05/11/2012

    If it does happen (a CME at Earth’s bulls eye) we can only hope that it’s strong enough to make folks take this type of phenomena seriously, but not so powerful as to injure a lot of good critters (anyone.)

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  2. 2. RCWhitmyer 9:58 pm 05/11/2012

    Yes, nothing like a kick in the pants to get someones attention. The power grid is getting old and overextended. One good knock and whole regions could go out for months or longer.

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  3. 3. momoo 11:18 am 05/12/2012

    Yep.And i believe human beings won’t be hurt, though our daily life will be affected.

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  4. 4. alan6302 11:37 am 05/12/2012

    Nostradamus predicts a seven day solar event that will double the apparent size of the sun. No date was given; however, a large CME is predicted for december (crop circles). It will activate a genetic poison. He also predicts the sun will engulf the earth in about 8100 years.

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  5. 5. RCWhitmyer 5:01 pm 05/12/2012

    momoo None except those who get hurt or die as result of power outages. The grid needs to be hardened and updated to minimize CME effects.

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  6. 6. geojellyroll 12:29 pm 05/13/2012

    This is silly exaggeration. At most a few momentary satelite glitches may occur.

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  7. 7. archean 12:46 am 05/14/2012

    alan6302 Can you read old french? Because if you tried to read Nostradamus you would see how vague is writings were…just saying

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  8. 8. Quinn the Eskimo 12:44 am 05/18/2012

    More sensationalism from SA!!!

    We’re nowhere close to December 21. See?

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