Oct 27, 2014 05:16 PM EDT
The most active sunspot in the last two decades is currently churning out solar flare after solar flare and they are all aimed directly at Earth. The AR 12192 sunspot has ejected two flares in the past 5 days that qualify as X-class events. Just in case you were wondering, X-class flares are the most intense and potentially dangerous classification. AR 12192 is so large that you can actually view it with the naked eye, but you should not look directly at the Sun without proper filtering or shielding equipment or else you risk permanent eye damage.
When the radiation from solar ejections like this one reach Earth they typically produce amazing aurora shows and can even damage satellites and our ability to transmit radio waves. And the very large ejections can even cripple the communications infrastructure here on Earth or potentially our electricity infrastructure. On Oct. 22 of last week, Earth experienced a partial blackout of radio transmission as a powerful flare swept past our planet.
According to Space Weather, the region is indeed powerful and the situation could grow worse in the coming days and weeks: "Earth-effects could increase in the days ahead. AR2192 has an unstable 'beta-gamma-delta' magnetic field that harbors energy for powerful explosions, and the active region is turning toward Earth. NOAA forecasters estimate a 85% chance of M-class flares and a 45% chance of X-flares during the next 24 hours."
The Space Weather Prediction Center, run by the federal government, stated that AR 12192 "remains a potent force in both area (the largest active region since November, 1990) and complexity and is favorably positioned for generating both Geomagnetic and Solar Radiation Storms."
Solar storms caused by unstable regions on the surface of the Sun, like AR 12192, can send intense UV rays towards the Earth which can be harmful to human skin. If you plan to be outdoors for extended periods of time in the coming days and weeks, be sure to check the local UV index for UV concentration in your area, and remember to wear sunscreen and sunglasses.
For more information on solar flares and coronal mass ejections visit the SOHO website, which hosts information, photos and videos obtained by the Solar & Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO), a space craft that constantly monitors the Sun's activity and is a joint venture by both the European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA.
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