Sunspots are just islands of magnetism floating on the surface of the sun. Sunspot AR2736 didn’t even exist just two days ago and now, this rapidly growing active region stretches across more than 100,000 km of the solar surface and contains multiple dark cores, much larger than Earth (see below). Furthermore, the sunspot has a complicated magnetic field that is crackling with C-class solar flares. That’s not unusual though and has happened with many sunspots before but why is this different?
What makes this sunspot so special?
Aside from it’s large size, this sunspot would appear to similar to others. However, upon close inspection, it’s actually very different. Most sunspots, similar to most magnets, have two poles – a + (N) and – (S). Sunspot AR2736, however, has multiple poles with areas of + and – jostling against one another. This has caused the sunspot to become crackling with flares. So what does this mean exactly? Well, magnetic field lines of opposing polarity will eventually criss-cross and then explode. This is a process known as magnetic reconnection and could be extremely interesting to observe.
C-4 Class Solar Flares
On March 20th at 1118 UT, this new sunspot, AR2736, reached it’s final point and proceeded to explode, which produced a C4-class solar flare that lasted more than an hour. The explosion sent minor waves of ionization rippling through Earth’s upper atmosphere and caused a shortwave radio “brownout” over southern parts of Europe and all of Africa. This means that there may have been anomalies in radio propagation at frequencies below 20 MHz and was probably noticed by people who use these radio frequencies, such as mariners and ham radio operators.
Furthermore, the explosion threw out a coronal mass ejection (CME) into space. The fun part? This CME is in fact heading for Earth as we speak. While the it is predicted that the majority of the cloud will miss Earth, it is still likely that the flanks of the CME will deliver a glancing blow to the planet some time on the 22nd March, quite late, or possibly the early hours of the morning on the 23rd March. Many have suggested that the 23rd prediction is far more likely. Whenever it happens, G2 geomagnetic storms are predicted when it hits.