Just last weekend, NASA’s Solar Dynamic Observatory (SDO) caught sight of a gigantic dark blemish marring the surface of the Sun. This blemish, called a “sun spot,” is the largest seen in this current solar cycle, covering a surface area that could swallow 10 Earth’s whole.
The new sunspot in question is nearly 80,0000 miles across, according to NASA. Massive sunspots like these are so large that they can be noticed by the naked eye, and were even regularly recorded by ancient Chinese astronomers by 28 BC.
This way, we know that this is not the largest sunspot ever seen. While ancient records do not indicate size with accuracy, the largest sunspot on modern record (in 1947) was almost three times as large as this one.
Still, the current sunspot, labeled AR 12192, is the largest seen since before 2008, when the current solar cycle – the periodic change in the Sun’s activity and appearance – began.
Doug Biesecker, a researcher at the National Weather Service Space Weather Prediction Center, told The Washington Post that he’s certain that “this is the largest sunspot group since November of 1990” as well.
So just what is a sunspot anyways? Experts have long theorized that sunspots are parts of the Sun’s surface that have been broken by intense and complex inner magnetic felids poking through. The areas, markedly cooler than the rest of the surface, appear darker. They also are the sites of solar eruptions such as flares or coronal mass ejections. Just this past week the current massive spot produced three notable solar fares.
Nature World News reported earlier this year how experts are still struggling to explain how exactly sunspots work. The rolling motion of plasma contained by magnetisms creates a coil-like structure along the umbra and penumbra of a spots darker regions. This structure can buck and shift, temporarily breaking through the Sun’s surface to release plasma jets and brief-but-powerful eruptions.