ASTRONOMERS have just spotted a monster on the sun and it appears to be getting bigger.
One of the largest sunspot group seen in years is rotating across the sun and the potential for massive solar flares is considered very high.
It’s so big that 10 earths could fit into it.
Now you can understand why we call it a monster.
The sun rotates about once every 27 days as viewed from the Earth so we haven’t been able to see this giant spot directly until now.
Sunspots are believed to spawn solar flares, the bigger the sunspot the more powerful the flare.
This is called “space weather” and solar flares can be pretty damaging because we rely so much now on electronic communication.
A really large solar flare could severely damage or destroy any of our communication satellites and overload power stations causing mass blackouts and power outages.
Most developed countries like Australia are particularly vulnerable because the power infrastructure is highly interconnected, so failures could easily cascade like chains of dominoes.
Imagine large cities without power for a week, a month, or a year.
The losses could be $1 to $2 trillion, and the effects could be felt for years.
So, the next time you get burnt red from being outside too long spare a thought for how powerful that ball of energy is that dominates the daytime sky.
The sun warms our planet every day, provides the light by which we see and is necessary for life on Earth.
It produces poem-worthy sunsets and as much energy as 1 trillion megaton bombs every second.
Wow, that’s raw untapped power.
The sun is a star, just like the other stars we see at night.
The difference is distance.
Other stars we see are light years away, while our sun is only about eight light minutes away, many thousands of times closer.
We wouldn’t be here if the sun wasn’t just the right distance away from planet earth.
By the way, the sun would hold the earth a million times over.
So, how close is the sun?
And while we’re at it, will the sun ever stop burning?
The sun has been “burning" for more than 4.5 billion years.
In another five billion it will swell up to a hundred times its present size and burn most of the solar system up, us included.
As you read this, the sun is going through an intense period of activity called the “solar maximum”.
Last month we saw solar flares shooting away up to 100,000 kilometres in length.
And, there’s more on the way.
Want to see sunspots for yourself this week?
It’s easy, just punch a hole through a piece of thin cardboard with a large knitting needle, point it at the sun and hold a sheet of white A4 paper below.
Sunspots will appear. Congratulations, you’ve just made a pin-hole projector.
Lastly, never look directly at the sun, OK?
Your eyesight is too precious to lose.
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