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Giant sunspot risks blasting Earth with powerful solar flares

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A large sunspot developing on the Earth-facing side of the Sun has the potential to launch powerful solar flares able to causing widespread disruption, astronomers have warned.

Sunspot region 3089 is one in all 4 sunspot regions being monitored which have a notable flare probability, though it’s the just one able to triggering a strong geomagnetic storm within the Earth’s atmosphere.

“This sunspot region was lively a number of days ago but has quieted down considerably. Remarkable because it does have a magnetic delta structure,” SpaceWeatherLive, which tracks real-time auroral and solar activity, stated in its latest report on the sunspot region.

The presence of a magnetic delta structure means it has the potential to release an X-class flare – the most important kind of flare.

X-class flares are rare occurences but can produce as much energy as a billion hydrogen bombs, in keeping with Nasa.

“In the event that they’re directed at Earth, such flares and associated coronal mass ejections (CMEs) can create long lasting radiation storms that may harm satellites, communications systems, and even ground-based technologies and power grids,” the US space agency warned.

“X-class flares on 5 December and 6 December, 2006, for instance, triggered a CME that interfered with GPS signals being sent to ground-based receivers… With advance warning many satellites and spacecraft will be shielded from the worst effects.”

The present probability that Sunspot region 3089 will produce an X-class flare is 5 per cent, in keeping with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) within the US.

Sunspot region 3089 will be seen in the underside right quarter of the Sun facing the Earth

(Nasa/ SpaceWeatherLive)

The position of the sunspot means it’s “absolutely something to keep watch over” in the times ahead, SpaceWeatherLive’s report stated.

It concluded: “If the group producing a robust solar flare launches a coronal mass ejection the chances are high high that it should have an earth-directed component.”

If it does reach Earth, the resulting geomagnetic storm could cause damage to satellites and telecommunication infrastructure.

Experts warn that severe solar storms could even lead to widespread blackouts, with Dr Mike Hapgood, chair of the Space Environment Impacts Expert Group (SEIEG) told The Independent that such an event could wreak havoc with GPS systems.

A study last 12 months by Sangeetha Abdu Jyothi from the University of California, Irvine, warned that a once-in-a-century solar storm could even lead to an “web apocalypse”.

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