Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 15 July 2020

UAE IN SPACE

Space researchers in Sharjah detect sunspot five times the size of Earth

Sunspots are the first indicators of solar eruptions, which can cause geomagnetic storms on Earth

A family of sunspots were first flagged by Nasa on May 29, which caused the largest solar flare since 2017. Courtesy: Nasa 
A family of sunspots were first flagged by Nasa on May 29, which caused the largest solar flare since 2017. Courtesy: Nasa 

A gigantic sunspot five times the size of the Earth has been identified by astronomers in Sharjah.

Researchers at the Sharjah Academy of Astronomy, Space, Science and Technology detected the radio solar emission earlier this month.

Dr Ilias Fernini, deputy general director of the academy's Research Laboratories and Sharjah Observatory, described sunspots as dark blotches on the surface of the sun that are caused by increased magnetic activity.

They are the primary indicators of solar eruptions that lead to solar storms.

“We detected a sunspot which is five times the size of the Earth,” said Dr Fernini.

In 1989, the entire Quebec province in Canada faced a power outage because of a solar storm that heavily damaged their electricity grid.

The massive 1989 solar storm in Northern Canada caused a power blackout in all of the Quebec Province. Courtesy: Nasa 
The massive 1989 solar storm in Northern Canada caused a power blackout in all of the Quebec Province. Courtesy: Nasa

The electrically charged particles from the storm were so strong they crossed through Earth’s magnetic field, causing Central and Northern Canada’s skies to light up with Aurora Borealis – or Northern Lights – for two full days, and became visible in places such as Honduras and Dominica.

Now, thanks to advances in technology, space researchers and scientists can monitor the sun throughout the day and more efficiently for any increased solar activity.

Space scientists and astronomers have been closely monitoring the sun, as it has entered its new 11-year cycle (Solar Cycle 25), which could cause it to be more active.

Dr. Ilias Fernini, deputy general director of Sharjah Academy of Astronomy, Space, Science and Technology's Research Laboratories and Sharjah Observatory. Courtesy: Sharjah Academy of Astronomy, Space, Science and Technology
Dr. Ilias Fernini, deputy general director of Sharjah Academy of Astronomy, Space, Science and Technology's Research Laboratories and Sharjah Observatory. Courtesy: Sharjah Academy of Astronomy, Space, Science and Technology

For the past several years it has been quiet, with very little solar activity.

“It all depends how strong the cycle is. We expect it to be at a maximum by 2022,” said Dr Fernini.

The sunspot detected was part of a family of sunspots that were flagged by US space agency Nasa on May 29.

Nasa’s Parker Solar Probe detected the solar flare, which was the largest discovered since October 2017.

Dr Fernini said that increased solar activity could affect the global climate in the long run.

He said the particles released from the solar flares can also impact human-built space objects.

Sunspots detected in 2014. Courtesy: Nasa
Sunspots detected in 2014. Courtesy: Nasa

“Sometimes when we receive highly charged particles, it may also affect our satellites. We survived them in 2003 when the sun was very active and it sent huge amounts of particles towards our planet,” said Dr Fernini.

He added that more than 28 satellites in low Earth orbit were damaged and two others were destroyed in the 2003 solar storms, also called ‘Halloween Storms’ due to their occurrence around the autumn celebration.

Updated: June 26, 2020 10:40 AM

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