One particularly lively region on the Sun is acting particularly strangely.
Sunspot 1271 – as it’s named – has been constantly transforming its contours; here in this animation of images taken over a period of 48 hours.
The oddly morphing storm on the Sun is so large; it can be seen by people on Earth without telescopes when glanced through thick clouds of smoke or water vapor.
But please don’t try to observe it yourself without a proper, qualified solar filter.
These images from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory reveal what’s going on beneath the surface of the Sun.
This slowly twisting solar tornado has wound the Sun’s local magnetic field around into what solar scientists call a “beta-gamma” pattern.
Tight packing of crossed-up magnetic field lines like this sets the stage for medium energy “M-class” solar flares.
When a sunspot cluster is positioned near the center of the solar disk, from our perspective, any flares it produces could obviously be aimed at Earth.
Such M-class flares can set off relatively minor geomagnetic radiation storms…
…causing radio interference…
… and even temporary shut-down of radio data and communications in the nations near Earth’s poles.
But for now, at least, the weirdly twisting sunspot 1271 is just a curiosity…
..and not yet a nuisance
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Sunspot 1271 has been changing form over the past 72 hours, possibly a pre-cursor to a M-Class solar flare that could pose a threat to Earth. Includes Solar Dynamic Observatory imagery time-lapsed from August 22-24, 2011. Editor: Steve Spaleta
Credit: SPACE.com/NASA/SDO/Sarah E. Baur/Music: Atom Strange / Steve Spaleta