A cluster of sunspots has rolled into view of Earth and may send a solar storm our way as early as Saturday.
The cluster includes about a dozen sunspots that are around 125,000 miles wide– about 15 times bigger than our planet, Space.com reported.
The group is very active. Spaceweather.com reports that it had already fired out several C-class flares and three M-class flares, before coming into view.
M-class flares are medium-sized eruptions. According to the European Space Agency, when directed at Earth they can cause short radio blackouts. C-class solar flares, meanwhile, are minor and have little effect when they hit Earth.
Space-weather experts will be keeping a close eye on the cluster as it lines up with Earth, Daniel Verscharen, an associate professor of space and climate physics at University College London, told Business Insider.
“Groups of sunspots are regions that we pay close attention to. They are areas in the sun’s photosphere where the magnetic field is particularly strong and often complex,” he said.
“These complex magnetic fields are more likely to become sources of flares and mass ejections,” he said.
Simulations from the European Space Agency, using the EUHFORIA computer code, suggest that if the cluster releases a mass ejection, it could reach Earth as early as Saturday evening ET (just after midnight Sunday morning), per Verscharen.
Scientists will keep watching the cluster until it rolls away from Earth. The cluster should be in full alignment with the Earth in four to five days, Matt Owens, a professor of space physics at the University of Reading, told Business Insider in an email.
Verscharen and Owens noted that it’s very difficult to predict the strength of solar weather that could come from the sunspots — if they release any Earth-directed particles at all.
” “The sunspots are large and complex which indicates they will likely produce space weather”, said Owens.
“Sometimes huge spots produce a tonne of activity before and after they pass Earth, but nothing at that critical time when they’re pointed right at us,” he added.
As of Friday evening, the US and UK agencies that monitor space weather forecasted a low risk of any type of dangerous solar weather in the coming days.
It is the latest in a slew of bizarre observations as our sun is getting closer to a near-decadal peak of solar activity.
Solar Weather is largely harmless. Solar weather is mostly harmless. The Earth’s magnetism bounces back the vast majority of charged particles that are sent out by the sun.
Solar flares, eruptions, and other solar events are sometimes disruptive. For example, they can cause radio outages , which can have an impact on the aviation industry.
There is concern that an increase in solar activity can lead to a rare once-a century solar storm , that could overwhelm our planet’s protective shield without much warning.
It’s not clear how our electrical, communication, and satellite system would fare in that scenario, as such a storm hasn’t been spotted in decades, in which time humans have become much more reliant on technology.