UPDATE: Matt's World Of Weather: Giant Sunspots & The Northern Lights

Northern Lights Update
The M-Class solar flare (result in producing the Northern Lights) prediction for Sunday is 65% and 15% for X-class flares (Stronger, more destructive flares). The chance of seeing the Auroras is very low for eastern North Carolina tonight and tomorrow.

Previous Story:
For comparison sake, a good size sunspot is roughly 2 times the size of Earth. AR-1476 belittles the “good size” category and is nearly 4 times that of the Earth and stretches ~60,000 miles. A monster of a sunspot yes, but how do we go about grasping 60,000 miles? Well, the standard issue MS Windows calculator has indicated that 60,000 miles is the equivalent of nearly 1 million football fields placed end-to-end, give or take a few yards. Want to actually see this sunspot with the naked eye? Check out the video!

Additionally, if you started at one side of the sunspot and set the cruise control to 60 mph, it would take 1,000 hours or 42 days to reach the other side of the sunspot. Need some tunes for this trip? Might I suggest “Sunspot Baby” by Bob Seger?

Not to be completely outdone, but the largest sunspot ever recorded was in 1947. It was so big that scientist stopped using the tradition naming methods and just dubbed it “The Great Sunspot of 1947”. This behemoth of solar activity was nearly 42 times the size of Earth, or … 17,850,000 football fields. I’m going to pass up the opportunity to calculate the number of years it would take Chris Johnson to eat up that much yardage.

Northern Lights:
NASA has a way of classifying solar flares coming off of sunspots. The three categories are X, M and C. X is the strongest flare and is most feared by satellite companies. Among satellite communication problems, the X-class has the power to knock out power grids across the globe. So far, our massive sunspot has yet to produce an X-class flare. It has however produced seven M-class flares. Traditionally, the M-class (Think medium strength, not Mercedes-Benz) is responsible for the dancing Northern Lights, but require a coronal mass ejection as well, something the seven flares have been missing. That being said, the sunspot will be around for another week and a possible Northern Lights show could be in the cards. In fact, we’re looking at a 75% chance of an M-class flare within the next 24 hours. Finally, the C-class flares are the weakest and are so common that they usually go unnoticed.

Sunspot Cycles:
Our giant furnace tends to go through periods of active sunspot “cycles”. Through calculations, it was found that every 11 years or so we reach the max/min of solar activity (sunspots). Currently, we are set to max out this cycle in 2013. There has been a lot of research and data suggesting a correlation between sunspot cycles and our weather here on Earth. Without going into great detail (unless you ask), some have even argued that the warming trend over the last decade was/is due to an increase in solar activity.

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