Vast Sunspot Has Grown 10 Times in Size in Just 48 Hours

A huge sunspot on the surface of the sun has reportedly grown in size more than tenfold over the past couple of days.

The sunspot, known as AR3085, has also been shooting off several minor solar flares, though nothing strong enough to be disruptive on Earth.

Sunspots are regions on the sun where magnetic fields are so intense that some heat is prevented from reaching the sun's surface. As such, sunspots may appear as dark patches.

Due to the intense magnetic fields, sunspots are known sources of solar activity. When these magnetic field lines suddenly shift, a vast amount of energy is released in the form of a flash of radiation, known as a solar flare, or a cloud of plasma and magnetic field, known as a coronal mass ejection (CME).

Sunspot AR3085
Sunspot AR3085 seen by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) on August 24, 2022. The sunspot has grown significantly this week. NASA/SDO/HMI

These are both examples of space weather. Both flares and CMEs can interact with our planet and potentially interfere with modern technology if they're strong enough.

Flares and CMEs can disrupt radio communications and cause power grid issues. When CMEs influence Earth's magnetic field, they can also cause auroras to occur at lower latitudes than normal.

At the moment, it seems unlikely that sunspot AR3085 will lead to any strong space weather activity.

As of August 21 it had given off only C-class solar flares, which are a weak type. Generally, only M-class flares and the strongest X-class flare types are powerful enough to cause radio issues on Earth, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC).

These photos from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) show how the sunspot grew in size from the afternoon of August 21 to the evening of August 22.

Sunspot AR3085
Sunspot AR3085 seen on August 21, 2022. NASA/SDO/HMI
Sunspot AR3085
Sunspot AR3085 on August 22, 2022, having grown from the previous day. NASA/SDO/HMI

According to solar activity news website Spaceweather.com on Tuesday afternoon: "Two days ago sunspot AR3085 barely existed. Since then it has grown more than 10-fold, turning itself into a double sunspot group with cores nearly as wide as Earth."

In a more recent update on Wednesday, Spaceweather.com stated space weather should remain calm for the rest of the week with AR3085 being the only significant sunspot group in sight of Earth.

Solar Dynamics Observatory Satelite
A NASA illustration of the Solar Dynamics Observatory satellite. The SDO is a NASA mission which has been observing the Sun since 2010, the observatory is part of the Living With a Star (LWS) program. NASA

This is in contrast to last week when Earth was buffeted by several CMEs and solar flares, leading the SWPC to issue space weather alerts across three days.

Space weather activity can be expected to increase in the coming years during an increasingly active stage of the roughly 11-year solar cycle.