Enormous Sunspot in 2014

In the first days of 2014, an enormous sunspot appeared along the eastern edge of the Sun. Formally known as Active Region 1944 (or AR1944), this feature is actually composed over 60 individual sunspots. The largest of them is several times larger than planet Earth.

The Sun and Active Region 1944 as seen on 2014 Jan 07. For more information, see Sun and Sunspot.

The Sun and Active Region 1944 as seen on 2014 Jan 07. For more information, see Sun and Sunspot. Photo ©2014 by Fred Espenak

So large is AR 1944, that it can be seen with the naked eye provided you use a solar filter to attenuate the Sun’s intense light. I’ve spotted AR 1944 with nothing more that a pair of eclipse glasses left over from a past eclipse trip. Last night (Jan. 06), I photographed the Sun setting behind some of the rugged peaks of the Chiricahua Mountains near my home in Portal, AZ. I found it fascinating to watch the Sun and AR 1944 pass behind the distant spires before disappearing from view.

AR1944 is easily seen as the Sun sets among the rugged peaks of the Chiricahua Mountains on January 06. For more information, see Sunset with Sunspot. Photo ©2014 by Fred Espenak

AR 1944 is easily seen as the Sun sets among the rugged peaks of the Chiricahua Mountains on January 06. For more information, see Sunset with Sunspot. Photo ©2014 by Fred Espenak

In spite of being an active region on the Sun, AR 1944 has been relatively quite since its appearance. But that could change quickly with a powerful solar flare. According to SpaceWeather.com: “The sunspot has an unstable ‘beta-gamma-delta’ magnetic field that could erupt at any time. NOAA forecasters estimate a 75% chance of M-class flares and a 30% chance of X-flares on Jan. 7th.”

Since AR 1944 is now appears near the center of the Sun’s disk, it is aimed directly at Earth. So any major eruptions will spew high energy particles and x-rays directly at us, possibly triggering a major geomagnetic storm. Such events can damage satellites in high geosynchronous orbits. This is where most communications satellites orbit, so a major flare can effect global telecommunications. For more on this topic, see What impact do solar flares have on human activities?.

A closeup of AR1944 reveals that the large sunspot is actually composed of dozens of smaller sunspots. This image was made on January 7 from Portal, AZ . For more information, see Sunset with Sunspot. Photo ©2014 by Fred Espenak

A closeup of AR 1944 reveals that the large sunspot is actually composed of dozens of smaller sunspots. This image was made on January 7 from Portal, AZ . For more information, see Sunset with Sunspot. Photo ©2014 by Fred Espenak

Solar physicists and space weather experts will be watching AR 1944 closely in the coming days. And so will amateur astronomers and sky watchers around the globe.

Fred Espenak

Update: According to NASA: “The sun emitted a significant solar flare, an X1.2, peaking at 3:31 p.m. EST on Jan.7, 2014. This is the first significant flare of 2014, and it follows on the heels of mid-level flare earlier in the day.” The source of this flare is AR 1944.

3 thoughts on “Enormous Sunspot in 2014

  1. this stuff. Very interesting and has some effect here on earth sometimes. Great to watch the progress of these things. Thanks.

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