Increased Sunspot Activity This Week – How Much Worry Is Too Much?

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ImpactWeather’s resident space weather expert StormWatch Manager Fred Schmude weighs in on the current solar flare situation.

AR1476. Photo:

As we continue to trend toward the peak of Solar Cycle 24 (expected to occur around mid 2013) we’re seeing an expected increase in frequency of sunspot activity on the surface of the sun.   Solar scientists pay particular attention to sunspots since some of the larger ones can produce large solar flares and if directed toward Earth can cause significant interruption to satellite and radio signals and even to the power system, which can in extreme cases lead to blackouts and potential damage to the electrical grid.  Some of these large solar flares are also followed by another solar phenomena called a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) which is a hyper-concentrated burst of electrons and protons associated with the solar wind.  It’s this concentrated burst of energy that causes the problems.

During the past few days, solar scientists have been monitoring a new sunspot group called AR (Active Region) 1476 on the sun’s northeast quadrant.  The sunspot group is not only quite large but has a magnetic field dubbed a “beta gamma” which typically are quite dangerous and harbingers of potential large solar flares.   We expect AR 1476 to rotate toward the Earth-facing side of the sun over the next 5-7 days bringing a threat of solar flares.  It’s still too early to tell if we’ll run the risk of seeing any super large flares, but some of the top solar scientists will be anxiously watching AR1476 over the next several days.  More of these solar flare alarms are forecast over the next 6-12 months followed by a gradual decline from 2014-2015 as SC24 gradually weakens.

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