Tuesday, September 27

Giant sunspot points toward Earth; ‘No need to panic,’ experts say


  • A sunspot, called AR3038, has been doubling in size each day for the past three days, a NASA scientist said. As sunspots grow, there’s a higher chance of solar flares.
  • Solar flares can disrupt radio communications and power grids on Earth. But this sunspot is not particularly likely to cause intense flares, experts told USA TODAY.
  • The flares also have little effect on most people on Earth, experts reassured, saying “there is no need to panic.”

A sunspot with the potential to cause solar flares captured the internet’s attention Tuesday as media reports warned of the sunspot pointing toward Earth.

But experts told USA TODAY the sunspot is far from unusual and eased concerns of how any potential solar flares would affect the Blue Planet.

Active Region 3038, or AR3038, has been growing over the last week, said Robert Steenburgh, acting lead of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Forecast Office. The sunspot’s size and growth rate are fairly normal, he said.

“This is what sunspots do,” he said. “Over time, generally, they’ll grow. They go through stages and then they decay.”

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What are sun spots and solar flares?

Sunspots are areas on the surface of the sun that appear darker because they are cooler than other parts of the sun’s surface, according to NASA. Sunspots are cooler because they form where magnetic fields are strong and prevent the heat from within the sun from reaching its surface.

“I guess the easiest way to put it is that sunspots are regions of magnetic activity,” Steenburgh said.

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www.usatoday.com

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