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9/16/2009

Large Sunspot Detected on Far Side

A big sunspot appears to be growing on the far side of the sun. Yesterday, the National Solar Observatory's GONG network detected helioseismic echoes from the sunspot's gathering magnetic field. Today, NASA's STEREO-B spacecraft is beaming back images of an active region peeking over the sun's far-eastern limb - exactly where GONG data predicted it would be. "I believe this is a large active region belonging to new Solar Cycle 24. 

The sun's rotation should turn it toward Earth for direct viewing on Sept. 20th." Until then, the sunspot number remains pegged at zero. Why? Because farside sunspots do not count. Back in the 19th century when the sunspot number was invented, astronomers had no way of monitoring events on the farside of the sun, so no provision was made for adding farside spots to the total. NASA has two spacecraft (STEREO-A and -B) maneuvering for a 360 degree view of the entire sun, and by the year 2011 no sunspot will escape their detection. [site note: Due to earth's position, the spring and autumn (September 22) equinoxes are the most dangerous times for a solar plasma strike that could take down the power grid. It will be especially so in 2012.
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