Sunspot 1302 is Big, Bad, and Coming Our Way

Every three hours throughout the day, magnetic observatories around the world measure the largest magnetic change that their instruments recorded during that period. The result is averaged together with those of the other observatories to produce an index (Kp index) that tells scientists how disturbed the Earth’s magnetic field is on a 9-point scale. Credit: NOAA

A strong-to-severe (Kp=8) geomagnetic storm is in progress following the impact of a coronal mass ejection (CME) at approximately 8:15a.m. EDT (12:15 UT) on Sept. 26. The Goddard Space Weather Lab reported a strong compression of Earth’s magnetosphere. Simulations indicate that solar wind plasma has penetrated close to geosynchronous orbit starting at 9am. Geosynchronous satellites could therefore be directly exposed to solar wind plasma and magnetic fields. High-latitude sky watchers should be alert for auroras after nightfall.

Behemoth sunspot 1302 unleashed another strong flare on Saturday morning–an X1.9-category blast at 5:40 am EDT. NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) recorded the extreme ultraviolet flash.

The movie also shows a shadowy shock wave racing away from the blast site. This is a sign that the blast produced a coronal mass ejection (CME) that could deliver a glancing blow to Earth’s magnetic field.

Since the X1.9-flare, active region (AR) 1302 has unleashed M8.6 and M7.4 flares on Sept. 24 and an M8.8 flare early on Sept. 25. None of the blasts have been squarely Earth-directed, but this could change as the sunspot turns toward our planet in the days ahead. AR1302 is growing and shows no immediate signs of quieting down.

Studying the activity of the Sun can help astrobiologists understand how our solar system’s host star effects the climate and habitability of our planet, Earth.