The southeastern section of the Sun is covered with a large dark blotch. Sunspot AR1787 is one of the biggest if not the biggest of the whole of cycle 24. The spot is massive; the dark cores of the spots alone are the size of the Earth and it has the energy to produce X-Class flares, though that magnetic field is still building and is nowhere near its full potential yet. The magnetic field will continue to build in strength and this dramatically increases the chance of a large X-class flare.
If an X-class was thrown off today, Earth would not be directly in the firing line. But over the next few days the sunspot will move across the solar disc putting us squarely in its sights.
AR1787 is close behind it, another very active region that already has the energy for M-Class flares, and NOAA predicts that the chance of an M-class within the next 24 hours is 40% and an X-Class 10% during the same period.
These sunspots are a sign that the sun’s southern hemisphere is waking up. For most of the current solar cycle, the northern half of the sun has dominated sunspot counts and flare production. The south has been lagging behind–until now. June brought a surge in southern sunspots, and the trend is continuing in July. This “southern awakening” could herald a double-peaked Solar Maximum due in late 2013-early 2014. (Source)
Today’s sunspot number is 109, not overly high for this point in the cycle as we head towards solar maximum.
The Marshall Solar Physics Center has released the July solar cycle update:
The current prediction for Sunspot Cycle 24 gives a smoothed sunspot number maximum of about 67 in the Summer of 2013. The smoothed sunspot number has already reached 67 (in February 2012) due to the strong peak in late 2011 so the official maximum will be at least this high. The smoothed sunspot number has been rising again over the last four months. We are currently over four years into Cycle 24. The current predicted and observed size makes this the smallest sunspot cycle since Cycle 14 which had a maximum of 64.2 in February of 1906.
Chris Carrington is a writer, researcher and lecturer with a background in science, technology and environmental studies. Chris is an editor for The Daily Sheeple, where this article first appeared. Wake the flock up!