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Science

Massive sunspot could lead to aurora displays through weekend

  • Author:
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published October 23, 2014

Sunspot region AR 2192 could be about to light up the atmosphere over Alaska. Lovers of the aurora borealis should cross their fingers and hope for clear skies.

The National Weather Service Space Weather Prediction Centers says a sunspot cluster the size of Jupiter has broken out in region 2192. It's the largest sunspot in 20 years on the earth-facing side of the sun.

"If [the sunspot region] maintains this level of complexity, we still believe more X-class flares are likely, and that should continue for next six or seven days," researcher Doug Biesecker told The Washington Post. "It's now in position that you would expect any CMEs to be earth-directed for the next three or four days."

CMEs -- coronal mass ejections -- from sunspots are what set the aurora to dancing across the night skies in a rainbow of colors. AR 2192 has so far been low on CMEs, but that could change.

The flare in the region is huge, though "not as scary as the region associated with the Halloween solar storm of 2003, which was more complex,'' Biesecker said.

The 2003 Halloween solar storm was so strong that NASA reported the aurora visible as far south as Florida. The agency posted photos of a "spooky looking aurora'' that formed in the skies over Nome the day before Halloween that year.

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