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This spot on the sun is so big you can see it without equipment (but use equipment anyway)

Don’t look now, but the sun has a big dot on it. Like, literally, don’t look. You can permanently damage your eyes.

At nearly five times the diameter of Earth, sunspot AR3190 is an attention-seeking blob on our star’s surface — so big you can currently see it when the sun is shining. But don’t give in to the temptation to yawn unless you have eclipse glasses or goggles, preferably certified by the International Standards Organization(Opens in a new window) (ISO).

And by the way, it’s a good time to stock up on eclipse glasses, as those tend to get expensive in the weeks leading up to an eclipse, with one arriving on April 8.

So what’s going on with this huge sunspot?

At the beginning of the current solar cycle — the sun’s approximately eleven-year pattern of only-somewhat-understood(Opens in a new window) magnetic phenomena — astronomers predicted(Opens in a new window) that the peak year for solar activity such as sunspots would be 2025. It’s only 2023 and we’re experiencing extraordinary levels of solar activity including impressive bursts of plasma(Opens in a new window), and quite a few big spots – though none of the others are nearly as big as AR3190. Sunspots like this are uncommon, though far from unheard of(Opens in a new window).

Does this sunspot pose any danger?

This sunspot probably poses no real danger, but it has a decent chance of exploding.

When a sunspot of this size explodes, one can expect a release of energy called a solar flare. Astronomers expect AR3190 to produce an “X-class” flare, the most intense of the kind. X-class flares send things like radio waves, X-rays and gamma rays into space at the speed of light. When Earth is hit by a strong eruption, the results can be good things, such as beautiful auroras at northern and southern latitudes, as well as radio outages, satellite damage and disruption to the power grid.

A sunspot explosion can also be accompanied by a coronal mass ejection (CME), which is a relatively slower ejection of particles from the sun’s “corona” — basically the atmosphere. CMEs also cause beautiful auroras and also have the ability to disrupt communications and knock out power.

But it remains to be seen whether all this will happen before AR3190 rotates out of sight – which also reduces the chances of subsequent activities causing problems on Earth.

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