AR3038 is the latest giant sunspot. In just one day, it doubled in size, increasing its diameter by about 31.9 thousand km.
Sunspots are dark patches on the surface of the Sun, where powerful magnetic fields created by the flow of electric charges from the solar plasma intertwine before suddenly disappearing. As a result, the release of energy triggers bursts of radiation called solar flares. Flares generate explosive jets of solar material, called coronal mass emissions.
“AR3038 has an unstable ‘beta-gamma’ magnetic field that harbors energy for M-class [medium-sized] solar flares, and it is directly facing Earth.” When a solar flare affects the upper layers of the Earth’s atmosphere, X-rays and ultraviolet radiation ionize the atoms, making it impossible for them to reflect high-frequency radio waves and creating a so-called radio blackout. Radio blackouts occur over areas of the Earth illuminated by the sun during a flare. Such blackouts are classified from R1 to R5 according to increasing severity.
Currently, the AR3038 is located just north of the solar equator and therefore the Earth will remain in its sights for several days. Despite its rapid growth, the giant sunspot is not as scary as it may seem. This flare is likely to have an “M” class, which usually causes short-term radio blackouts that affect the Earth’s polar regions. M-class flares are the most common type of solar flare. Although the Sun sometimes emits huge X-Class flares (the strongest category), they can cause high-frequency blackouts on the side of the Earth that is exposed to the flare. They are much less common than smaller solar emissions.
Spots can also belch solar material, but due to a strong magnetic field, the barrage of solar debris does not reach the surface and is absorbed. As a result, we have powerful geomagnetic storms. During these storms, the Earth’s magnetic field is slightly compressed by waves of high-energy particles that permeate magnetic field lines near the poles and agitate molecules in the atmosphere, releasing energy in the form of light, creating colorful auroras in the night sky.
Solar activity is projected to increase steadily over the next few years, reaching an overall high in 2025, and then decline again.
According to scientists, the largest known sunstorm was the Carrington event. It took place in 1859, when an amount of energy equivalent to 10 billion atomic bombs with a capacity of 1 megaton was released. When it hit the Earth, a powerful stream of solar particles roasted telegraph systems around the world, and the auroras that appeared in the south, as far as the Caribbean Sea, became brighter than the light of a full moon. According to scientists, if something like this happened today, it would cause trillions of dollars in damage and cause large-scale power outages, very similar to the 1989 solar storm (Quebec event), which caused power outages in the entire Canadian province of Quebec.