GREENBELT, Md. (WJZ) — While winter weather has gripped much of the nation, there’s also a focus this week on space weather.
It can cause trouble here on Earth and as Alex DeMetrick reports, the source is the largest sunspot in a quarter century.
As the sun rotates, it’s bringing back a mega sunspot first seen last month. They don’t often get this big.
“It’s actually the biggest we’ve had in about 24 years. It’s the size of Jupiter,” said Dr. Yaireska Collado-Vega, of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.
And violent–producing x-class solar flares, the top of the scale. Normally a blast this immense would unleash massive ejections of high-energy particles. But not this time–at least, not yet.
“Most of the time we have high magnitude solar flares we do have coronal mass ejections associated with them. So this is very unusual. So this is why this sunspot is very special.,” Collado-Vega said.
So far, those eruptions have had little impact on us, but with the sun, that could change.
“The sun is very dynamic and unpredictable,” Collado-Vega adds.
And why scientists at the Goddard Space Flight Center are working to make it more predictable.
Called space weather, those high energy ejections are mostly shielded from the Earth by its magnetic field. But in orbit, satellites are vulnerable to damage if they aren’t put into protective positions.
And down on the ground, electric grids can overload, burn out and cause massive blackouts. That’s why sunspots are closely monitored–if one does erupt.
“We have about three to four days to analyze it and make sure we have a good prediction on where and when it’s going to impact,” Collado-Vega said.
Among the satellites at risk from space weather are the ones we count on the most, including communication and GPS.
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