April 17, 2024

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This giant group of sunspots is 15 times larger than Earth

This giant group of sunspots is 15 times larger than Earth

Sunspots can also be seen from the surface of Mars. The Mars rover Perseverance captured a snapshot of our parent star from the Red Planet.

Sunspots are areas in the sun that are cooler than the surrounding area. They are caused by disturbances in the star's strong magnetic field. If you look at the sun through eclipse glasses, you can see black spots. In fact, these spots are not really black, but appear black because the rest of the Sun's surface is so bright.

The Mars rover Perseverance takes a picture of the Sun every day using the Mastcam-Z camera. Scientists do this to determine how much dust is swirling in the Red Planet's atmosphere. It is more common for Perseverance to detect sunspots, but this is only possible if the sunspots are large enough. Sunspot cluster AR3576 – which is 15 times larger than Earth's – appears to be large enough to be seen from the surface of Mars.

Now that solar maximum – the peak in the 11-year solar cycle – is approaching, we will find such large sunspots (clusters) more often on the surface of the Sun. These large sunspots usually produce heavier solar flares, which means there is a greater chance of spotting the aurora in the coming years. Good news for northern lights lovers!

The massive sunspot cluster AR3576 is now slowly moving away from us. Since the Sun rotates on its axis in about 29 days, we may see the group again in about two weeks. Did the group collapse or continue to grow? We wait quietly.

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Image at top of this article: JPL Caltech