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'Freakish' Sunspot Wows Astronomers

NASA image of sunspot AR 2192
NASA
NASA image of sunspot AR 2192

As sunspots go, AR 2192 is, as astronomer Phil Plait has noted, "freakishly huge."

Discovery News says: "Amateur astronomers have been wowed by a vast sunspot that has rotated to face Earth, the largest since this solar cycle began in 2008, and solar observatories (on the ground and orbiting Earth) are closely monitoring the region."

The sunspot is particularly interesting because of its potential to wreak havoc here on Earth.

According to Universe Today: "[As] the Sun rotates this monster into our line of sight, possibilities for Earth-directed flares and coronal mass ejections increase as do geomagnetic storms, the bringer of auroras."

(For a good overview on sunspots, solar flares and Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs), Space.com has this primer.)

"This particular active region ... has been rumbling with intense flare activity, recently exploding with 2 X-class flares, causing some short-lived high-frequency (HF) radio black outs around the globe," Discovery says.

Just last month, the Earth caught a glancing blow from an X-class flare, triggering impressive auroras.

Properly shielded (welder's helmet or telescope "sun filter"), AR 2192 is, as are most sunspots, easily visible to the naked eye. Through a small telescope (again, equipped with a sun filter), you can see a lot more detail, including "the mix of dark umbras scattered amid weirdly sculpted penumbral "islands,'" says Universe Today.

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