Watch new sunspots bubble up and grow on the solar surface

This video from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory tracks five new sunspots as they twist and turn on the Sun's surface. Amazingly, all of these sunspots are bigger than the Earth and have more energy than a million nuclear bombs.


Phil Plait over at Bad Astronomy offers this helpful explanation:

Taken over the course of two weeks (half a rotation of the Sun), you can see them pop up, darken, and grow, and even rotate a bit as the Sun's complex magnetic fields change… and the neatest part to me is the foreshortening they undergo as they approach the east side of the Sun's disk. Amazing!

Sunspots are actually regions of slightly cooler material at the Sun's surface. Hot plasma (ionized gas, stripped of one electron or more) rises from the solar interior, reaches the surface, cools off, and sinks back down. This is called convection, and is the same process you see in a pot of boiling water. But at the surface, the tortured and twisted magnetic field of the Sun can suppress convection, preventing the cooler material from sinking. Since the brightness of the plasma depends on the temperature, this cooler stuff is darker. Boom! Sunspot.


This video tracks the five sunspots as they move about from February 7 to 20 of this year. These sunspots are the same ones that ultimately created a massive X-class flare back on March 15.

Via Bad Astronomy.

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I envy that satellite.

This is so awesome. And it always staggers me when something on such a vast scale is taken down to a scale that people can understand. Being sped up, this video really gets across the feeling that the surface of the sun is... fluid. You look at it, and it looks like something you could hold in a coffee cup. And then you remember things like "bigger than Earth" and "a million nuclear bombs" and you pull your perspective muscle.