Thanksgiving sunspot: Scientists forecast extreme ‘space weather’ THIS WEEK

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The US National Science Foundation’s National Solar Observatory (NSO) has forecast a large sunspot that will coincide with Thanksgiving 2020. Sunspots are dark areas that appear on the Sun’s surface, due to their relative coolness compared with other parts.

Solar flares, which are are sudden explosions of energy, are caused by the violent tangling of magnetic field lines near sunspots.

Since we are in the very early phase of the new solar cycle, the signal from this large spot stands out clearly

Dr Kiran Jain

Researchers in this NSO study used the novel helioseismology technique, allowing them to “listen” to changing sound waves from the Sun’s heart which predict the arrival of sunspots.

Helioseismology was developed by NSO scientists in the 1990s to detect how sound waves interact with the Sun’s magnetic fields in its core.

The changes to such sound waves indicate the imminent arrival of new sunspots anticipated to be visible from Earth near the eastern solar limb.

Dr Alexei Pevtsov, Associate Director for the NSO Integrated Synoptic Program responsible for the prediction, said: “We measured a change in acoustic signals on the far side of the Sun.

“We can use this technique to identify what is happening on the side of the Sun that faces away from Earth days before we can catch a glimpse from here.

“Having up to five days lead time on the presence of active sunspots is extremely valuable to our technology-heavy society.”

Solar storms usually occur in these sunspot regions, particularly when the sunspot is large and complicated.

When magnetic fields become tangled, they are far more likely to result in large solar flares and coronal mass ejections.

This phenomenon can result in space weather powerful enough to even affect our planet.

Communication infrastructure, Global Positioning Satellites (GPS) and even electrical grid systems can all be affected.

And according to the US Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC), sunspots can last anywhere between hours and days.

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NSO provides round-the-clock eyes on the Sun through the National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded Global Oscillation Network Group (GONG) network.

The network uses six monitoring stations positioned around the world to constantly observe the Sun’s magnetic field and other features.

Dr Carrie Black, Program Director at NSF, said: “GONG continues to be a valuable tool for both fundamental science research and operations.

“The ability of GONG to identify and track active regions emergent on the far side of the Sun has important implications for future space weather predictive capabilities.”

Dr Kiran Jain, the NSO scientist responsible for the far side forecast, described the sunspot evolution as “the strongest far-side signal we have had this solar cycle.”

He said: “It was inconspicuous at first but grew quickly, breaking detection thresholds just one day later.

“Since we are in the very early phase of the new solar cycle, the signal from this large spot stands out clearly.”

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