Giant sunspots are giant

The entire universe in blog form
Nov. 9 2011 8:40 AM

Giant sunspots are giant

Active Region 1339 -- a huge cluster of sunspots which appeared on the Sun a few days ago -- is still going strong. "Amateur" astronomer Alan Friedman took a devastating picture of the 100,000 km-wide-grouping:

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

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[Click to embiggen.]

This picture was taken using an Hα filter, which picks out the light from warm hydrogen, and really shows the texture of the solar surface. I added the Earth in there just to give you a taste of how fracking huge this cluster is; the scale should be pretty close. Obviously, several of the individual spots in AR 1339 are as big or bigger than our entire planet, in case you happened to feel too big for your britches today.

... but still. The thing is, we're starting to understand sunspots, better than any time in human history before us. Heck, a few centuries ago most people didn't know sunspots even existed, and if you had said they did -- violating the Aristotelian perfection of the heavens -- they would've laughed at you. If you were lucky. Some folks had a really hard time dropping Aristotle's influence.

And not only that, we can now routinely capture incredible images of these spots and present them on the internet, where an entire planet can see them and gasp at their size and beauty. I posted my own imaging attempts on Google+ last weekend, for that matter.

Chinese curses be damned: we do live in interesting times, and I'm glad. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Image credit: Alan Friedman, used by permission.



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