Doug Lung / 09.29.2011 12:00AM
Big Sunspot Raises Warning for Solar Flares
A huge sunspot has formed on the surface of the Sun. It is so big the active region can be seen without a telescope, (although be sure to protect your eyes from almost certain damage using one of the techniques used for viewing solar eclipses such a special solar filter). This sunspot, named AR1302, unleashed solar flares on Sept. 22 and 24, and earlier this week, impressive auroras were visible from high northern and southern latitude. While the last coronal mass ejection (CME) from the Sun hit Earth's magnetic field on Sept. 26 and AR1302 has become less active, as solar activity increases more solar flares are expected.
Amateur Radio operators are aware of the impact of auroras and geomagnetic storms on terrestrial communications – shortwave signals sound "watery" as they reflect off the aurora. Strong geomagnetic storms disrupt shortwave communications. Satellite operations are affected when low energy particles build up charges on the surface of the satellite or high energy particles cause single event anomalies. These can lead to failure of satellite systems, permanent or temporary.
During this period of high solar activity, visit the National Weather Service's Space Weather Prediction Center
for specific information on space weather's impact on satellites. Real time data is available at Space Weather Now
. This page includes an Auroral Map showing areas where auroras may be visible using data from NOAA polar orbiting satellites. For spectacular photos of auroras and a summary of space weather data and NOAA forecasts, visit spaceweather.com