By Rob Waugh
PUBLISHED: 05:59 EST, 6 July 2012 | UPDATED: 10:04 EST, 6 July 2012
A violent new sunspot is bombarding the Earth with particles from solar flares – including a blast that affected some radio transmissions across Europe.
Nasa’s Solar Dynamics Observatory captured an M5.6-class solar flare erupting from the sun’s surface starting on July 2, from a huge sunspot called AR1515 in the sun’s southern hemisphere.
The blast of particles – a ‘coronal mass ejection’ – was not directed towards Earth, but the charged particles caused brief radio interference across Europe.
NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory saw an active region on the sun, labeled AR1515, sent out an M5.3 class solar flare that peaked on Independence Day July 4th, 2012
This image, captured by the Solar Dynamics Observatory, shows the M5.3 class solar flare that peaked on July 4, 2012
SUMI’ss instruments are designed to study magnetic fields of the sun’s chromosphere — a thin layer of solar atmosphere sandwiched between the visible surface, photosphere and its atmosphere, the corona
From a different spot, but on that same day, the sun unleashed a coronal mass ejection (CME) that began at 4:36 AM on Tuesday.
Models from the NASA’s Space Weather Center at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md, described the CME at traveling at nearly 700 miles per second, but do not show it heading toward Earth.
Sunspots are darker than the surrounding area because they are slightly cooler, which makes them less luminous.
They are caused by the sun’s magnetic field becoming twisted – and it’s this twisting dynamic that can produce coronal mass ejections.
These contain billions of tons of gases bursting with X-rays and ultraviolet radiation.
They are mind-bogglingly hot – around 100,000,000C.
The chromosphere is a narrow layer above the photosphere that raises in temperature with height. Normally, it can’t be seen by the naked eye because the light from the photosphere of the Sun overpowers it. The coloring of the chromosphere (deep red) is caused by the immense hydrogen supply it contains
The Earth is occasionally hit by these ejections, leading to amazing shimmering light shows.
They are the result of ionised solar particles becoming imprisoned by Earth’s magnetic field, exciting the gases in the atmosphere and emitting bursts of energy in the form of light.
However, these particles can also cause magnetic storms, which in extreme cases have been known to disrupt satellites and electricity grids.
In 1989, a CME was held responsible for leaving six million people in Quebec, Canada, without power.
Solar activity runs in 11-year cycles, with the current one peaking in 2013, so more violent space weather is on the horizon.
Dr Matthew Penn, of the National Solar Observatory in Arizona, said recently: ‘Because the sun is becoming more active, it will have an impact on millions of people. Sunspots can cause the biggest and most damaging space storms that occur.
‘During the next two years, we are expecting the number of sunspots visible on the sun to reach a maximum. We know that sunspots are the source of a lot of space weather and solar storms, so we expect a larger number of solar storms here at the Earth.’