- Posted January 5, 2014 by
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Earth in danger - Giant sunspot 1944 has rotated onto the Earth-facing side of the solar disk
But 2014 has gotten off to a fast start. A strong (M9) solar flare erupted on New Year's Day, though its energetic punch wasn't directed toward Earth.
January 1st was also when one of the largest sunspot groups of this solar cycle rotated around the limb and into view. Designated AR (Active Region) 1944, this giant is roughly 100,000 miles across. Earlier today my wife (blessed with keen vision) glimpsed it by eye through a glass solar filter without much trouble; it was more of a struggle for me.
This isn't a single sunspot but rather a group of many clustered together. "It's impressively complex," notes Tom Fleming, a veteran solar observer. "I got a count of 26 yesterday but I could only rate the conditions as 'fair' . . . too much turbulence. The actual count is probably closer to 45." Fleming notes this was already a mature group when it rounded into view, so at its peak the count was likely higher.
This group should reach the center of the solar disk in about 3 days. Because it's located near the solar equator, space-weather watchers will be on the alert for flares, which might direct a blast of relativistic energy Earth's way.
January 5, 2014 - 14:30 UTC
Read my analysis of the Earth-directed Coronal Mass Ejection from the M4.0 solar flare.
There is now enough satellite imagery available to analyse the CME that was launched during the long duration M4.0 solar flare from January 4. The solar flare launched an asymmetrical full halo CME that has a clear Earth-directed component. While the bulk of the ejecta is heading south of the ecliptic, a decent impact is to be expected. First estimates of the CME it's launch speed indicate it left the Sun at a speed of 800 to 1000km/s. However, it is to be noted that the part of the CME that is heading for Earth left the Sun at a slightly slower speed of about 700km/sec. This would put the arrival time for this CME somewhere during the second half of January 7th.
Expected geomagnetic activity
The polarity of the IMF is expected to be northward when the CME arrives. This would suppress the CME it's effects on Earth's magnetic field and thus prevent major storming. Active geomagnetic conditions (Kp4) will be likely with a chance for brief periods of G1 geomagnetic storming, which stands for a K-indice of 5. Note that it will only be possible to really determine what kind of geomagnetic conditions are to be expected once an impact has been detected and we know what the solar wind and IMF values are, so keep following our updates in this topic and on our social media channels for the most up-to-date and accurate information, this is a preliminary forecast.
Low Latitudes: 1% chance
Lower Middle Latitudes: 10% chance
Upper Middle Latitudes: 30% chance
High Latitudes: 90% chance