"Not just a near miss, but an actual glancing blow."
Last fall, NASA's Mars rover spotted a massive spot on the surface of the Sun — and now, that ginormous maw is looking directly at the Earth.
First reported by SpaceWeather.com, the sunspot is expected to blast a coronal mass ejection (CME) out towards Earth and will be "not just a near miss, but an actual glancing blow."
CMEs occur when storms on the surface of the Sun blast plasma out into the solar system, leaving planets in its path — including our own Earth — to handle the geomagnetic consequences.
While sunspots are nothing new, this one is a big deal because, well, it's so big.
Back in August, SpaceWeather pointed out something odd that had been imaged by the Mars rover Perseverance: a sunspot large enough to be seen from Mars, which indicated that it was absolutely massive. As Space.com notes in its own reporting on the XL ejection, the spot in question, named AR3576, seems to have at least four dark cores that are each the size of Earth itself.
Beyond just being an enchantingly gigantic anomaly — which, as Space reports, can be viewed from Earth without much more than a pair of eclipse glasses to protect one's eyes — this fascinating flare unfortunately has the potential to seriously screw with our electronics, too.
In a press release from earlier in the week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warned that AR3576 could eject X-class flares, which are the most powerful type of solar activity and emit tons of electromagnetic radiation. As NASA explains, this type of flare has the "potential to create global transmission problems and world-wide blackouts," which is not at all good news for, well, everything that keeps our world running.
Indeed, solar flares and their often-accompanying blasts of energy caused temporary radio blackouts in the United States in December and in the South Pacific earlier this week — indicating that the coming era of increased geomagnetic activity, which wasn't supposed to peak until 2025, is really starting to heat up.
"This solar maximum is the space weather equivalent of hurricane season," NOAA research scientist Mark Miesch told CNN of the space storm era last year. "This solar maximum is the space weather equivalent of hurricane season. It’s when we see the biggest storms."
"But unlike hurricane season, which lasts a few months, solar maximum lasts a few years," Miesch continued.
If this recent solar activity is any indication, the Sun is waking up in a big way — and our only option, really, is to marvel and deal with the consequences here on Earth.
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