NASA has detected a large grouping of sunspots — dark patches on the sun — known as AR3576, which have increased in size in the last month and could be a risk for strong solar flares.
Solar flares, which are a large burst of energy on the sun’s surface, can pose a risk to spacecraft and astronauts and also affect radio communications, electric power grids and navigation signals, according to NASA.
In fact, NASA captured a massive solar flare on Friday at its Solar Dynamics Observatory.
And in December, the largest solar flare in six years — that caused problems with airplane radio communications — occurred, sending a burst of radiation hurtling toward Earth.
Magnetic fields for sunspots are thousands of times more powerful than Earth’s.
The space agency first discovered the grouping at the end of last month from NASA’s Perseverance rover on Mars and the cluster is now facing Earth.
Sunspots, which on average are the size of Earth, appear darker than the rest of the sun because they’re cooler and can cause solar flares when magnetic field lines are crossed. Some of AR3576’s sunspots are actually larger than Earth.
“Real-time images from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory show an enormous sunspot group moving across the Sun right now!,” NASA posted on Friday. “If you have eclipse glasses and good vision, you might be able to see it without magnification. (Never look directly at the Sun without proper eye protection!)”
AR3576 is around 93,200 miles long, nearly four times the circumference of Earth.