Watch a massive cold spot grow and travel across the sun’s surface

Watch a massive cold spot grow and travel across the sun’s surface
A few sunspots pepper an otherwise calm star in 2013.
Source: NASA/SDO
A few sunspots pepper an otherwise calm star in 2013.
Source: NASA/SDO

From Earth, the sun looks small and calm. Up close, it’s anything but. Fortunately, NASA has an excellent view of the sun’s surface through its Solar Dynamics Observatory, equipped with three different devices for measuring the sun’s activity.

Between July 5 and July 11, that orbiter caught this incredible footage:

Source: YouTube

What you’re watching is a fast-growing tangle of magnetic fields on the sun’s surface. The spot looks dark because all the magnetic activity blocks some heat from rising to the sun’s surface — it’s about 2,300 degrees Kelvin cooler in the sunspot.

Sunspots are pretty common, although just how common they are changes over a cycle that lasts about 11 years. Right now, we’re approaching the low point of that cycle, which is why most of the sun’s surface looks so smooth. This sunspot is right about where the phenomenon most often occurs — in two strips on either side of the sun’s equator.

While they feel distant, sunspots can actually affect life here on Earth. They often lead to what’s called space weather, when the sun’s behavior sends streams of particles towards Earth that can cause auroras near the poles, tangle GPS signals, or even affect the power grid.

How much do you trust the information in this article?

Meghan Bartels

Meghan Bartels is a science journalist based in New York City.

MORE FROM

The six words that will make you sound smarter than all your friends when watching the eclipse

What is an umbra? How does the Saros cycle work? The total solar eclipse, explained.

Do you have little freckles in your eyes? This might be why.

Remember to protect your eyes.

The US desperately needs computer science majors, so keep coding

There are more than 500,000 computing jobs open in the US right now.

The 2017 solar eclipse will help scientists figure out just how much energy we get from the sun

Reflections are tricky things — as we'll learn when August's total solar eclipse hits.

No, Mars didn’t grow 12 more moons — here’s what’s happening in this stunning picture

Mars and the mysteriously multiplying moon.

Scooby-Doo’s real name isn’t Scoobert Doobert

It's time to call Scooby by his real name.

The six words that will make you sound smarter than all your friends when watching the eclipse

What is an umbra? How does the Saros cycle work? The total solar eclipse, explained.

Do you have little freckles in your eyes? This might be why.

Remember to protect your eyes.

The US desperately needs computer science majors, so keep coding

There are more than 500,000 computing jobs open in the US right now.

The 2017 solar eclipse will help scientists figure out just how much energy we get from the sun

Reflections are tricky things — as we'll learn when August's total solar eclipse hits.

No, Mars didn’t grow 12 more moons — here’s what’s happening in this stunning picture

Mars and the mysteriously multiplying moon.

Scooby-Doo’s real name isn’t Scoobert Doobert

It's time to call Scooby by his real name.