Japanese space probe and observatory have recorded a huge sunspot activity. Images of a sunspot cluster 66 times the size of Earth were released by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) on Nov. 19. The solar observation probe Hinode and NAOJ took pictures of the sunspots from Oct. 16 to Oct. 30, before the sun’s rotation obstructed the view. The sunspot cluster could be seen again on Nov. 15, but it had shrunk to one-third of its peak size on Oct. 26.
Sunspots appear in big clusters when the sun is most active. Large solar flares, a phenomenon triggered by sunspot activity, were also observed on the surface of the sun on six occasions in October.
Solar activity intensifies and then decreases over an 11-year cycle, according to the observatory. The sun currently appears to be in one of the most active phases of that cycle, they said.
|Solar observation probe Hinode on Oct. 24 recorded a huge sunspot cluster. Credit: National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency|
The last time such a huge sunspot appeared was in 1990. That sunspot was 74 times the size of Earth and was observed over a four-month period.
Hinode is a highly sophisticated observational satellite equipped with three advanced solar telescopes. It was launched on Sept. 22, 2006. The satellite is operated by the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS) - a division of JAXA - in collaboration with space agency partners from the NAOJ, the United Kingdom, and the United States.