A giant sunspot that is is currently on the surface of the sun is acting so peculiarly that it has scientists completely baffled.
According to PBS, the huge spot was 80,000 miles wide when it came into view on October 18. This is the size of 10 Earths when they are measured side by side and experts have already declared that it is the largest spot that has been seen on the sun in 24 years.
But what is a sunspot? It is a cooler area on the visible surface of the giant star that is also darker and is able to store magnetic energy. Most of the time, the fact that the energy needs to escape results in eruptions that see huge chunks of plasma explode outwards. However, this huge sunspot is keeping its plasma near to the surface and it has scientists a little perturbed.
This sunspot was supposed to emit its energy through both solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CME’s). But so far, while there have been a lot of huge flares emitted, there haven’t been any CME’s.
Michael Hesse, who is the director of NASA Goddard’s Heliophysics Science Division, which consists of a posse of scientists who stare at the sun 24 hours a day examining its progress, has admitted that they are currently flummoxed but the sunspot’s actions.
“I can’t remember ever seeing a sunspot producing so many solar flares and so few CME’s. It wants to get rid of this energy, but we don’t understand why it does it through a flare and not a CME.”
The fact that this sunspot has a very complicated structure means that scientists believe its explosion could be incredibly ferocious. However, until it does explode, NASA will be intensely studying it to try and learn from it and Hesse believes that it will feature prominently at a variety of scientific events and conferences in the future as experts discuss its impact on what is known about the sun.
“The fact that this sunspot has been nicely in front of the sun where we can watch it gives us an unprecedented opportunity to study this question: How can we have flares and no CMEs. We don’t know that at all. We can look at the sunspot and see that there’s energy stored in it. We can see the complexity and know if it’s more likely to produce eruptions. But we don’t know when the eruptions will occur, and we don’t know what they will look like. And we have no clue as to whether it will produce a flare or a CME. We simply don’t understand this.”
[Image via Boston.com]