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Fast-growing sunspot may threaten Earth with flares and eruptions

The sun has numerous sunspots on this June 22, 2022 image from the Solar Dynamics Observatory.
Sunspots on the face of the sun (Image credit: Courtesy of NASA/SDO and the AIA, EVE, and HMI science teams)

A once-tiny spot on the sun's surface grew over the weekend to the size of Earth, potentially threatening our planet with radio blackout-causing solar flares and plasma eruptions that could trigger aurora displays.

The sun has been lively in the past few weeks, treating skywatchers at high latitudes and astronauts onboard the International Space Station to beautiful aurora displays. There may be more of those storms to come, as the sunspot AR3085 keeps growing and rotating toward Earth.

The sunspot is one of six active regions currently observable on the disk of the sun, but space weather forecasters are not too worried about it, predicting low activity for the next 24 hours with occasional mild solar flares that could possibly cause short-duration radio blackouts, according to U.K. space weather forecaster Met Office (opens in new tab)

Related: Storm-boosted auroras dazzle skywatchers around the world (photos)

Met Office expects the low solar activity to continue in the next four days, with a small chance of an increase to moderate levels. A small coronal hole, an opening in the magnetic field lines in the sun's upper atmosphere, the corona, may increase the flow of solar wind toward Earth, possibly leading to turbulent geomagnetic conditions, which might make auroras visible farther away from the poles.

Of course, the sunspot AR3085, which has, according to spaceweather.com, increased in size tenfold in the past two days, might fire a coronal mass ejection (CME) — a burst of charged particles — at Earth, triggering a geomagnetic storm later in the week. Currently, however, no such CME is heading our direction. 

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Tereza Pultarova
Senior Writer

Tereza is a London-based science and technology journalist, aspiring fiction writer and amateur gymnast. Originally from Prague, the Czech Republic, she spent the first seven years of her career working as a reporter, script-writer and presenter for various TV programmes of the Czech Public Service Television. She later took a career break to pursue further education and added a Master's in Science from the International Space University, France, to her Bachelor's in Journalism and Master's in Cultural Anthropology from Prague's Charles University. She worked as a reporter at the Engineering and Technology magazine, freelanced for a range of publications including Live Science, Space.com, Professional Engineering, Via Satellite and Space News and served as a maternity cover science editor at the European Space Agency.