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Sunspot #930

@ spaceweather.com

MAJOR FLARE [05-Dec] :: Earth-orbiting satellites detected a major X9-class solar flare this morning at 1035 UT (5:35 a.m. EST). The source: big, new sunspot 930*, which is emerging over the Sun's eastern limb. GOES-13 captured this X-ray image of the blast. Because of the sunspot's location near the limb, the flare was not Earth-directed. Future eruptions could be, however, because the Sun's spin is turning the spot toward Earth. Sunspot 930 will be visible for the next two weeks as it glides across the solar disk. [also, rare Egyptian tornado].

ANGRY SUNSPOT [06-Dec] :: Solar activity is very high. New sunspot 930 has unleashed two X-class solar flares: an X9-flare on Dec. 5th and an X6- flare on Dec. 6th. Because of the sunspot's location near the eastern limb, the blasts were not squarely Earth-directed. Nevertheless, they might make themselves felt. Coronal mass ejections (CMEs) hurled into space by the explosions could deliver glancing blows to Earth's magnetic field as early as Dec. 7th, producing high-latitude geomagnetic storms. {image}.

RADIATION STORM [07-Dec] :: A radiation storm is underway. Based on the energy and number of solar protons streaming past Earth, NOAA ranks the storm as category S3: satellites may experience single-event upsets and astronauts should practice "radiation avoidance." The rush of protons may be a sign of an approaching CME (coronal mass ejection). Protons are accelerated in shock waves at the leading-edge of CMEs, so when the proton count rises, we can guess that a CME is en route. Northern sky watchers should remain alert for auroras, which could flare up if and when a CME arrives.

ANGRY SUNSPOT :: Radio astronomer Thomas Ashcraft knew something was up yesterday when a loud roar came out of the loudspeaker of his 22 MHz shortwave receiver in New Mexico: Sunspot 930 had exploded again. The X6-class flare sent shock waves billowing through the sun's atmosphere, producing among other things a Type II solar radio burst: listen. NOAA forecasters estimate a 50% chance of another X-flare during the next 24 hours. Further explosions could intensify the ongoing radiation storm and improve the chances for widespread auroras. Stay tuned. {movie by French astronomer Pascal Paquereau}.

PLANETARY TRIANGLE [08-Dec] :: Set your alarm. Early tomorrow morning, Dec. 9th, Jupiter, Mercury and Mars will gather together in a tiny triangle about 1° wide. Look for them low in the eastern sky beaming through the rosy glow of dawn. The view through binoculars should be especially fine: all three planets will fit simultaneously in the field of view. [08-Dec|09-Dec|10-Dec|11-Dec].

SOLAR TSUNAMI :: When sunspot 930 exploded on Dec. 6th, producing an X6-category flare, it also created a tsunami-like shock wave that rolled across the face of the sun, wiping out filaments and other structures in its path. An H-alpha telescope in New Mexico operated by the National Solar Observatory (NSO) recorded the action. "These large scale blast waves occur infrequently, however, are very powerful," says Dr. K. S. Balasubramaniam of the National Solar Observatory. "They quickly propagate in a matter of minutes covering the whole sun and apparently sweeping away filamentary material." Researchers are unsure whether the filaments were blown off or were compressed so they were temporarily invisible. Get the full story from the NSO.

SUDDEN QUIET [10-Dec] :: After three days of intense storming last week, sunspot 930 has suddenly gone quiet. The sunspot's magnetic field has settled into a stable configuration and—for now—poses little threat for strong solar flares.

LIFTOFF! Space Shuttle Discovery and its crew of seven lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center last night at 8:47 pm EST. It was a spectacular after-dark launch, as shown in these images from photographer Mike Theiss: Expand: #1, #2, #3. Credit: M. Theiss, UltimateChase.com. Turn up the volume. Theiss also recorded the sound of the shuttle's engines: listen. "The crackling sound you hear is not a distortion. The launch really did sound like that," he says. "It was awesome." The astronauts are now en route to the International Space Station. Their mission: to re-wire the station. Changes are needed to take full advantage of two solar arrays installed in September. When they're done, there will be more power to the ISS.

GEMINID METEORS [11-Dec] :: The Geminid meteor shower is underway. It's weak now; Earth is just beginning its entry into the Geminid meteoroid stream. As the week progresses, rates will increase, peaking on Thursday morning, Dec. 14th, when sky watchers could see as many as 120 meteors per hour: sky map.

NIGHT LAUNCH :: The Geminids are coming, but "this is not a Geminid," says Mark A. Brown at Tyndall AFB in the Florida Panhandle. "It's the night launch of the Space Shuttle Discovery." Brown took the picture 400 miles from the Kennedy Space Center where the shuttle lifted off on Dec. 9th. "It was incredibly bright," he says. The shuttle's engines were like "a -5 magnitude Iridium flare flickering in the night sky—much brighter than Jupiter or Venus." Onlookers saw it as far away as New York. {Photo details: Canon Digital Rebel, ISO 1600, 50mm lens, f/5}.

 • STS-116 Night Launch Photo Gallery

FAST SOLAR WIND [12-Dec] :: A high-speed solar wind stream is pushing against Earth's magnetic field. It's been doing this for days. So far, however, the wind has produced few auroras. The stream is too thin and too steady to cause an intense geomagnetic storm.

BROODING SUNSPOT :: One week ago today, sunspot 930 unleashed an X9-class solar flare—one of the strongest flares in years. Since then it has become strangely quiet. The sunspot's tangled magnetic field still harbors energy for X-flares, but ... no flares. Meanwhile, photographers are enjoying the view. Gary Palmer of Los Angeles took this picture of sunspot 930 yesterday: {Fact: Sunspot 930 is three times as wide as Earth :: small | large} He used a Coronado Calcium K filter to reveal not only the sunspot's dark core but also the bright magnetic froth surrounding it. Solar physicists call the froth, which surrounds most great sunspots, plage, French for beach. Will this beautiful spot explode again? Stay tuned.

NOTE: The Solar X-ray Imager onboard NOAA's GOES-13 satellite is experiencing an anomaly possibly related to the X9-flare of Dec. 5th. NOAA and NASA staff are investigating. Meanwhile, coronal hole updates are suspended.

METEOR SHOWER [13-Dec] :: The Geminid meteor shower peaks tonight. Start watching around 9 p.m. local time on Wednesday, Dec. 13th. The display will start small but grow in intensity as the night wears on. By Thursday morning, Dec. 14th, people in dark, rural areas could see one or two Geminids every minute. [full story] [sky map]

X-FLARE :: Sunspot 930 has unleashed another big solar flare, an X3-class explosion at 0240 UT on Dec. 13th. In Huirangi, New Zealand, photographer Andy Dodson caught the spot in mid-flare: {Photo details: Dec. 13, 2006, 0350 UT; Coronado SolarMax40, Stellarvue 80 :: small | large} As a result of the blast, a radiation storm is underway. Based on the energy and number of solar protons streaming past Earth, NOAA ranks the storm as category S2: satellites may experience some glitches and reboots, but astronauts are in no danger. The explosion hurled a coronal mass ejection toward Earth: movie. Sky watchers should be alert for auroras when it arrives on Dec. 14th. (Note: In the movie, the CME is barely visible through a snowstorm of streaks and speckles. That "snow" is caused by solar protons peppering SOHO's digital camera.)

PASTEL SUN :: "I've been watching sunspot 930 since it first appeared last week," says artist Mark Seibold of Troutdale, Oregon. Inspired by the view through his Coronado SolarMax40, he made these pastel sketches: {small | large} Magnetic fields and hot plasma emerging from the sunspot's dark core reminded Seibold of "anatomical forms being born from a black pool. It conjures up William Herschel's assertion that 'the sun is richly stored with inhabitants.'" Clearly, the sun's not just a star—it's a muse. Solar activity is surging, so grab your pastels.

NOTE: An ongoing radiation storm has overwhelmed solar wind sensors onboard NASA's ACE spacecraft. Solar wind readings reported above are temporarily unreliable.

GOOD GEMINIDS [14-Dec] :: The 2006 Geminid meteor shower peaked this morning, and the first reports are in: It was a good show. There were "lots of meteors and fireballs, " says Alex Conu near Bucharest, Romania. One Geminid over Ozark, Arkansas, "produced shadows more intense than during a full moon!" reports Brian Emfinge: gallery.

AURORA ALERT :: Sky watchers, be alert for auroras. A coronal mass ejection (CME) hit Earth today at approximately 1400 UT, and the impact may cause strong geomagnetic storms. Stay tuned for updates. The CME was hurled toward Earth on Dec. 13th by an X3-class explosion from sunspot 930: {An X3-flare on Dec. 13th. Image credit: SOHO :: movie} NOAA forecasters estimate a 35% chance of more X-flares today. Sunspot 930 has an unstable "delta-class" magnetic field that could erupt at any moment.

Tags: spaceweather, sunspots
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