The Sunspot they call AR3590

AR3590 moving across the Sun’s surface

Keeping a close eye on the Sun’s surface!

AR3590 Sunspot
AR3590 captured with the Seestar – Gerald Grech
The Sun using the ZWO Seestar
The Sun captured with the Seestar – Gerald Grech

Over the past few days, I have had the opportunity to closely observe the ever-changing surface of the sun through the ZWO Seestar S50. The activity on the Sun’s surface is making news and social media everywhere. I am keeping a close eye on it daily and as I see the drama unfolding, all the hype centres around the sunspot designated AR3590.

Size comparison of the Sunspot to Earth
Size comparison of Earth to the Sunspot – Graphic: Gerald Grech

This one humungous sunspot, dwarfing Earth at over 120,000 kilometres in diameter (roughly 10 Earths can fit in this hole) and it has emerged directly in our line of sight.

The story began last week with the unexpected appearance of this dark giant. It quickly grew, and within a single day, unleashed a series of three X-class flares. These represent the most powerful category of solar eruptions, capable of ionising Earth’s upper atmosphere and disrupting radio communications.

Notably, one such flare impacted an AT&T communications satellite, highlighting the potential for disruption.

AT&T satellite
AT&T Satellite – AT&T

Since the initial flares, AR3590 has nearly doubled in size. Scientists believe its turbulent magnetic field has the potential for another significant eruption. 

At the moment there seems to be a current lull in activity, and it seemingly looks rather peaceful, but this could be a precursor to the sunspot’s next outburst.

Charged particles bombarding Earth
Charged particles facing Earth – Google

The most concerning aspect is the sunspot’s direct alignment with Earth. If another eruption occurs and launches a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME), our planet would be in the direct path of this charged particle cloud. While unlikely to be as intense as the legendary Carrington Event of 1859, even a moderately strong CME could cause significant damage to power grids and critical infrastructure, potentially leading to widespread blackouts and technological disruptions.

ZWO Seestar S50
ZWO Seestar S50 – ZWO

Witnessing such activity firsthand through the Seestar is a powerful reminder of the Sun’s immense power and our place within the Solar system. The sun is currently approaching the peak of its 11-year solar cycle, a period characterised by increased solar activity with more frequent and potent solar storms.

While AR3590 might not be a serious event right now, it serves as a stark warning of the potential consequences we face in the coming years. As we continue to monitor the sun’s activity, it is crucial to remain informed, vigilant, and appreciate the delicate balance that exists between our planet and the Sun. All I can say is thank heavens that Earth has its strong magnetic field that protects us from the catastrophic CME that is constantly ejected daily.

Other ways to view the Sunspot

Looking directly at the sun is extremely dangerous and can permanently damage your eyesight, even for a brief glimpse. However, there are several safe ways to observe and appreciate the Sun and this Sunspot.

Solar glasses
Baader Astro Sun Solar Eclipse Glasses – Thousand Oaks

1. Using Certified Solar Filters:

These specially designed glasses have a dark filter that reduces the sun’s intensity to a safe level for viewing. Look for glasses that meet the international safety standard ISO 12312-2

Thousand Oaks Solar Viewing Glasses

2. Solar filters for telescopes and binoculars: These filters attach to the front of your optical equipment and allow you to see sunspots and other features on the sun’s surface. Make sure the filter is specifically designed for solar observing and meets the appropriate safety standards.

A variety of Solar filters to use are listed here

Solar filter
Solar filter on the end of a reflector telescope – Skywatcher
Hydrogen image taken using a Coronado solar telescope.
Large Solar prominences using a Solar telescope – Flikr

3. Advanced viewing through dedicated Hydrogen Solar telescopes.

These telescopes focus on a specific wavelength of light emitted by hydrogen, the sun’s most abundant element. This “hydrogen-alpha” light unveils features like:

Solar prominences: Towering structures of hot gas erupting from the sun’s surface.

Sunspots: Cooler, darker regions linked to solar flares and coronal mass ejections.

Chromosphere: The layer above the sun’s surface, visible in stunning detail.

3. Indirect Viewing Methods:

Pinhole camera: This is a simple and safe way to project an image of the sun onto a surface. You can make a pinhole camera at home using a cardboard box, aluminum foil, and white paper.

Sun projection: This method uses a telescope or binoculars (with a safe solar filter) to project an image of the sun onto a screen or wall. This is a great way to share the experience with others.

Important Safety Reminder

Never look directly at the sun through any unfiltered optical device, including telescopes, binoculars, cameras, or sunglasses. Doing so can cause permanent eye damage. Always follow safe solar viewing practices to protect your vision and enjoy the wonders of our star.

Now, bring on the Aurora!

Aurora Australis
Aurora Australis: Duane Hayden

So to all you Aurora Australis enthusiasts! The incredible view of this aurora is now in full swing, the current conditions present a spectacular opportunity to capture the Southern Lights in stunning detail. If you’ve ever dreamed of witnessing and documenting this breathtaking natural phenomenon, now is the perfect time to capture this event!

This experience has also ignited a sense of awe and wonder. Observing the sun through the ZWO Seestar S50 has allowed me to witness firsthand the dynamic nature of the Sun, it is a powerhouse constantly in flux. It serves as a reminder of the delicate balance that allows life to thrive on our tiny blue planet.

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