NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) has spotted a new sunspot coming into view, after a few days of a spotless Sun. This new spot appears to have garnered quite a bit of notoriety online, although it’s mostly misguided.
The SDO released a beautiful video of the spot coming into view, with a handy size comparison of just how big the spot is compared to our planet.
Yes, sunspots are associated with solar flares and yes this is quite wide at 120,000 kilometers (75,000 miles) across, but it’s nothing to worry about. The Sun is about to enter a period of minimum activity during its 11-year cycle, but even during this time, sunspots are not that uncommon. On top of that, the newly observed sunspot is not even that big – and size matters when it comes to sunspots.
“The fact that we haven't seen sunspots for a couple of days prior to this new one is normal, as we are heading toward a minimum of activity,” Dr Miho Janvier, a solar physicist at the University of Paris-Sud's Institute of Space Astrophysics, told IFLScience.
Sunspots are features of the Sun’s photosphere that appear darker because they are cooler in temperature – between 2,700 and 4,200°C (4,900 and 7,600°F) – than the surrounding region, which is at almost 6,000°C (11,000°F). Their formation is linked to the magnetic field due to the solar material.
“Having sunspots is a very common feature of our Sun," Dr Janvier explained. "It is an indicator of its magnetic field activity and it is exciting to see sunspots appearing as they are regions where the local magnetic field is a bit more complex than the overall, global field."
Researchers are not worried about the formation of a strong flare. Usually X-class flares are produced during maxima by larger and more complex spots, like the famous one of October 2014.
The current sunspot has produced an M-class flare and many C-class flares, which are a lot weaker in energy. It is also losing its complexity, so researchers don’t expect anything much from it.
Nevertheless, even if it’s more common and not as big as you might have heard, it’s still a pretty cool astrophysical feature.