This image, captured at 3:45 p.m. (PST) on February 3, 2014, shows sunspot group AR1967 on its journey across the solar disc. (Gary Seronik)

A Giant Sunspot Update

As 2014 began, the biggest sunspot in recent memory made two trips across the  solar disc.

The spot, previously tagged as AR 1944, was renamed AR1967 as it began its second trip across the Sun’s face in early February. The umbra (the darkest region) of the biggest spot alone was considerably larger than the Earth.  Indeed, the group was large enough to show up in nonmagnifying eclipse-viewing glasses!

Will the spot make a third appearance toward the end of the month?  We’ll have to wait and see to find out.

Mike Wirths captured this view of the sunspot group on January 29, just as it was beginning to make its second pass across the solar disc. His image was taken in Hydrogen-alpha light with a Lunt 6-inch solar refractor from northern Baja California.

The Sun undergoes an 11-year cycle, during which the number of sunspots climbs to a peak before settling down for solar minimum. In theory, at least, solar activity is at its maximum for the current cycle right now — though sunspot numbers have been very low. Not all solar maximums are created equal, however, and the relative quiet of this one is likely a feature of normal, long-term, cycle-to-cycle variations.