AR2192, estimated to be 80,000 miles wide, is said to be spewing powerful solar flares in the most extreme X-range, some 14 times the size of Earth.
The Solar Dynamics observatory of NASA has been observing the sunspot as it has increasingly come into alignment with Earth.
The flares create beautiful auroral displays at high latitudes. But in a direct hit on Earth, the high electromagnetic energy particles produced could knock out all vulnerable electronics.
In recent days, the sunspot already has emitted two X-class flares that have caused some high-frequency radio blackouts around the globe.
According to Spaceweather.com, there’s a “95 percent chance of M-class flares, and a 55 percent chance of X-flares” over the next few days.
Since coming more in alignment with Earth, however, AR2192 has not emitted any such flares.
In the case of the United States, the already vulnerable electrical grid system would be especially vulnerable to a direct hit, affecting all life-sustaining critical infrastructures that depend on the grid to function.
The most immediate impact could be on communications, automatic control systems for pipelines, banking, financing, transportation, emergency services, transportation, delivery of food and water, and space systems.
NASA and the National Science Foundation has stated that a direct hit from a solar flare of this magnitude would cost the U.S. alone more than $2 trillion in the first year, knocking out the massive transformers that send electricity across country. It could kill up to 90 percent of the U.S. population due to starvation, disease and secondary fires and explosions due to the absence of the critical infrastructures.
Its effect would be most telling in the nation’s urban centers.
The effect of solar flares is especially acute now because the sun is approaching what is called its zenith, or solar storm maximum, as part of an11-year cycle that began in 2008.
The sunspot reflects intense magnetism, which bursts from the sun’s interior
Coincidentally, this month marks the 11th anniversary of the Halloween Solar Storms. In October and November 2003, a series of flares struck Earth, generating large auroras that caused satellite damage.
Aircraft had to divert away from the polar regions due to communications outages, and astronauts on the International Space Station had to seek shelter in a well-shielded portion of the craft.
“Solar activity is high,” according to Spaceweather.com “Remarkably, not one of the explosions so far has hurled a significant (flare) toward Earth. The primary effect of the flares has been to ionize Earth’s upper atmosphere, causing a series of short-lived HF radio communications blackouts. Such blackouts may be noticed by amateur radio operators, aviators and mariners.”
It warned, however, that Earth-effects could increase in coming days.
“AR2192 has an unstable beta-gamma-delta magnetic field that harbors energy for powerful explosions and the active region is turning toward Earth,” the Spaceweather.com announcement said.
NOAA forecasters estimate an 85 percent chance of M-class flares and a 45 percent chance of X-flares during the next 24 hours.
“Because the sunspot is so large – not about as wide as the planet Jupiter – people are beginning to notice it at sunset when the sun is dimmed by clouds or haze.”