Sunspot Growing Fast; Anomaly Grew Six Times Larger Than Earth In Last 48 Hours [PHOTO]
A sunspot that is growing fast has already become six times larger than the Earth, according to NASA. The sunspot was observed by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory as it swelled to enormous proportions over the 48 hours spanning Tuesday and Wednesday, and the sunspot is growing so fast that scientists are having trouble getting an accurate measurement of its size.
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"It has grown to over six Earth diameters across, but its full extent is hard to judge since the spot lies on a sphere, not a flat disk," NASA spokeswoman Karen Fox, of the agency's Goddard Space Flight Center told Space.com.
The sunspot that's growing fast is actually a collection of dark blemishes on the surface of the sun. Sunspots form from shifting magnetic fields at the sun's surface, and are actually cooler than their surrounding solar material. According to NASA, the sunspot that's growing fast has evolved into a "delta region" in which the lighter areas around the sunspot, the penumbra, exhibit magnetic fields that point in the opposite direction of those fields in the center, dark area.
"This is a fairly unstable configuration that scientists know can lead to eruptions of radiation on the sun called solar flares," Fox explained.
Since a sunspot that's growing fast can lead to solar flares officials will likely be monitoring satellites orbiting the Earth more closely over the next several days. The sun itself is in the middle of an active phase in its 11-year solar weather cycle, meaning that the likelihood for solar flares is high this year. If the sunspot growing fast means a solar storm is on the way, then it could spell trouble for anyone looking to fly in the next few days.
"Solar storms have a big effect on polar regions of our planet," Steve Hill of the Space Weather Prediction Center said on NASA's website. "When airplanes fly over the poles during solar storms, they can experience radio blackouts, navigation errors and computer reboots all caused by space radiation."
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