ACTIVE SUNSPOT: Big sunspot AR1654 is crackling with C- and M-class solar flares, and it poses a threat for even stronger eruptions. NOAA forecasters estimate a 5% chance of X-flares today.
Flares are illuminating the sunspot's magnetic canopy like flash bulbs at a rock concert; the phenomenon is evident in this 37-hour extreme ultraviolet movie from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory:
Since it first appeared four days ago, sunspot AR1654 has been facing away from Earth. But now it is turning toward us, increasing the "geo-effectiveness" of its explosions. This could be the sunspot that breaks the recent lengthy spell of calm space weather around our planet.
Amateur astronomers with backyard solar telescopes are encouraged to monitor in the days ahead. It is not only crackling, but also growing. As of Jan 12th, the behemoth stretches more than 180,000 km (14 Earth diameters) from end to end. Dennis Simmons sends this picture of the behemoth from Brisbane, Australia:
"Although the air was milky from nearby bush fires burning north of Brisbane, the seeing turned out to be good enough for a high-resolution shot," says Simmons. "I dedicate this image to the brave Australian fire fighters, working in horrendous, hot and windy conditions whilst fighting fires burning out of control across the south-east states of our country. I salute your selfless courage."