New discovery on the sun has captured scientists' attention

·2 min read

Astronomers have been busy in recent weeks watching activity unfold on the surface of the sun, and a new object has gained their attention.

A sunspot has emerged in recent days that is at least twice as big as the Earth, according to SpaceWeather.com. This region was named AR2975 after appearing on Wednesday.

Sunspots are areas on the sun where there is a concentration of magnetic activity, according to NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC). These areas can appear dark because they are cooler than other areas of the sun's surface.

Astronomers are not only watching this area of the sun closely due to its size but also because of what it could potentially do in the coming days.

When the conditions are right, a sunspot can spark a solar flare and launch a massive cloud of charged particles hurtling through space, known as a coronal mass ejection (CME).

If a CME hits the Earth, it can create dazzling displays of aurora, also known as the northern lights. The bigger the CME, the higher the chance is to see the aurora in places such as Canada, the northern United States and northern Europe.

During extreme events, CMEs could cause disruptions to satellites, communications and the power grid in addition to an outburst of aurora.

Will this new sunspot ultimately lead to a grand display of northern lights? It is still too early to say. But skywatchers who hope to see a celestial light show should monitor the news of this sunspot carefully in the coming days as it tracks across the surface of the sun.

The frequency of sunspots, solar flares and opportunities to see the northern lights are predicted to increase in the coming years as the sun becomes more active.

Like the changing of the seasons on Earth, the sun goes through different phases through its natural 11-year cycle.

The sun just ended its period of low activity, called the solar minimum, and is currently headed toward a time of high activity, known as the solar maximum.

Solar maximum is not expected to occur until 2025, so astronomers have their work cut out for them in the coming years monitoring the sun while stargazers have plenty of time to enjoy views of the aurora.

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