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    Solar storm warning: Air traffic facing disruption as huge sunspot turns to face Earth | Science | News

    Experts have warned that a massive solar spot on the far side of the Sun is facing us this weekend, which could result in a potential geomagnetic storm that disrupts satellites, and even causes chaos in airline navigation systems. These sunspots as they are known, appear darker than their surrounding on the surface of the Sun, and can stretch for hundreds of millions of miles.

    Sunspots are a result of magnetic disruptions in the photosphere — the lowest layer of the sun’s atmosphere — with these disturbances exposing the cooler layers of the star underneath.

    According to experts at Spaceweather.com, the sunspot is “so big it is changing the way the sun vibrates.”

    If the Sun’s darkened region lashes out by releasing a solar flare towards Earth, it could affect the Earth’s magnetic field, and cause disruptions in GPS and communication satellites that orbit close to the planet, as well as affect airplane navigation systems.

    The US-based National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Space Weather Prediction Center predicted that over the weekend, the geomagnetic field around Earth would be unsettled.

    This prediction suggests that regions in the higher northern latitudes could see dazzling auroras, although it is unclear whether it will turn into a full-blown solar storm. 

    While the current sunspot was on the far side of the Sun, scientists were able to track it by studying how to affected the Star’s vibrations

    Speaking to Live Science, Dean Pesnell, project scientist of NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) said: “The Sun continually vibrates because of convection bubbles hitting the surface.”

    The temperature differences inside the Sun cause hot and cool bubbles to continually rise and fall, which moves energy and causes vibrations that can be detected by solar observatories like NASA’s SDO. 

    READ MORE: Solar storm horror: Blast from Sun threatens power grid failure

    Solar flares are triggered by a process called “magnetic reconnection”, in which the geometry of the magnetic field in the Sun’s plasma is altered.

    These flares could affect the earth by heating up clouds of electrically charged particles in the upper atmosphere of the Sun to extremely high temperatures, unleashing a mass of plasma coronal mass ejections (CMEs),

    Mr Pesnell noted it is likely that the Earth sees solar flares heading towards it, and there could be some CMEs.

    The NASA expert noted: “Solar flares and CMEs are the major way solar activity affects the Earth.

    “From my work, higher levels of solar activity mean increased drag on satellites orbiting close to the Earth — and satellite operators will lose income if that drag de-orbits a working satellite.”

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