NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) has spotted a large dark patch on the sun’s surface which is currently facing Earth.
NASA reports that the massive sunspot rotated into view and was captured on video by SDO between July 5-11. The newly imaged sunspot is the first to appear after two days of spotlessness.
Sunspots are cooler than their surroundings and appear as dark patches. The largest spot in the newly formed sunspot group, called Active Region 12665, is larger than Earth. Active Region 12665 is currently the only sunspot group visible on the sun.
Sunspots frequently occur on the star’s surface, although occur less often when the sun is at solar minimum. The sun is currently heading into a period of solar minimum, which is a time of lessened solar activity that happens during the sun’s regular cycle, which lasts about eleven years.
In addition to SDO’s video footage, NASA released a black and white image of the sunspot group, noting that the sunspot cluster could create solar flares but that it is too early to predict further surface activity.
If solar flares do erupt, they could affect Earth by causing an increase in polar auroras and possibly some disruption to radio transmissions and other electrical functions.
SDO was the first spacecraft to be built under the auspices of NASA’s Living with a Star program. SDO has surpassed its five-year mission expectancy; the satellite celebrated the completion of its seventh year of data collection on May 1, 2017. SDO has collected a vast amount of data on the sun and its place in creating the space weather that can impact Earth.