Scientists are keeping tabs on a sunspot that triggered an X-class flare while “having an identity crisis”, according to SpaceWeather.com.
Magnified aurora displays are possible if a coronal mass ejection of charged particles emerges from “mixed” sunspot AR3006, which directed its outburst toward Earth Tuesday, May 10 at 9:55 a.m. EDT (1355 GMT) .
The eruption was filmed by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory and triggered a radio broadcast alert by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), amid a reported shortwave radio outage in the area of The Atlantic Ocean.
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AR3006’s polarity is the reverse of what scientists expect, making the sunspot “interesting and dangerous,” SpaceWeather.com said. (Sunspot polarity is governed by the current solar cycle.) “If AR3006 erupts today, it will be geo-effective. The sunspot faces Earth directly,” the website added.
According to NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center, which monitors solar flares and other outbursts, a coronal mass ejection (CME) could follow today’s flare. CMEs are massive outbursts of solar material thrown off by the sun, and scientists can predict whether one will track an eruption based on the radio signature. At around 12 p.m. EDT (1700 GMT), the agency said a CME “may be likely”, pending further observations.
In general, auroras can occur if a CME crosses our planet’s magnetic field lines. Usually the result is a harmless sky show as atmospheric molecules of gas glow.
Today’s flare has been categorized as an X1.5 class event, making it the weak side of the strongest flare category. The sun has triggered several outbursts of about the same strength over the past month, as well as a bunch of medium-sized flares. The sun’s peak activity is expected to occur in 2025, but there are currently many sunspots on its surface.
More rarely, CMEs can generate problems in efficient infrastructure such as power lines and satellites, which is why scientists monitor space weather so closely through many missions that look at our sun.
NASA and NOAA constantly monitor the sun; in addition, NASA operates the Parker Solar Probe mission, which periodically approaches our sun to understand how its superheated outer atmosphere affects solar flares and other phenomena.