It’s expected to hit April 14, when you can expect more intense aurora.

The “corpse” of a sunspot exploded Monday (April 11), triggering a mass ejection of solar material that is headed in Earth’s direction.

The explosion comes courtesy of a dead sunspot called AR2987, according to SpaceWeather.com(opens in new tab).  The sunspot explosion released loads of energy in the form of radiation, which also led to a coronal mass ejection (CME) — explosive balls of solar material — both of which could spur more intense northern lights in Earth‘s upper atmosphere. The material in that CME is likely to impact Earth on April 14, according to SpaceWeather.

Sunspots are dark regions on the surface of the sun. They are caused by intense magnetic flux from the sun’s interior, according to the Space Weather Prediction Center(opens in new tab). These spots are temporary and can last anywhere from hours to months. The idea of a “dead” sunspot is more poetic than scientific, said Philip Judge, a solar physicist at the High Altitude Observatory at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), but the convection of the sun breaks these spots apart, leaving in their wake magnetically-disturbed bits of quiet solar surface. 

“Occasionally,” Judge wrote Live Science in an email, “sunspots can ‘restart,’ with more magnetism appearing later (days, weeks) at the same region, as if a weakness was made in the convection zone, or as if there is an unstable region under the surface that is particularly good at generating magnetic fields beneath.” 

Related: Strange new type of solar wave defies physics

Whatever the future of AR2987, the sunspot let out a C-class solar flare at 5:21 Universal Time Monday (April 11). Such flares happen when the plasma and magnetic fields above the sunspot give way under stress; they accelerate outward, Judge said, because they would run into dense material if they went downward toward the sun’s interior.

C-class flares are fairly common and rarely cause any impacts on Earth directly. Sometimes, as with today’s eruption, solar flares can trigger coronal mass ejections, which are huge eruptions of plasma and magnetic fields from the sun that travel outward into space at millions of miles per hour. C-class solar flares rarely trigger CMEs, according to SpaceWeatherLive(opens in new tab), and when they do, the CMEs are usually slow and weak.

When CMEs hit the magnetic field surrounding Earth, the charged particles within the ejection can travel down the magnetic field lines that emanate from the North and South Poles and interact with the gases in the atmosphere, releasing energy in the forms of photons and creating the shifting, dazzling curtains known as the aurora — the northern and southern lights.

During quiet times on the sun’s surface, a stream of particles known as the solar wind is enough to trigger the aurora in the polar regions. During a large CME, the greater disturbance to the planet’s magnetic field means that the aurora may appear over a much broader range. A so-called cannibal CME raced toward Earth at the end of March, triggering auroras in Canada, the northern U.S., and New Zealand, Space.com reported

The CME released Monday might yield a minor (G1) geomagnetic storm on April 14, meaning that there could be minor impacts on satellite operations and weak fluctuations in the power grid, according to SpaceWeather. The aurora may become visible at lower latitudes than usual, as far south as northern Michigan and Maine.

All of this activity is fairly par for the course for the sun, according to the Solar Influences Data Analysis Center, part of the Royal Observatory of Belgium. It’s a time of increased activity for our nearest star, which goes through periods of quiet and activity known as solar cycles. The sun is currently in Solar Cycle 25, the 25th since formal observations began in 1755. The number of sunspots during this cycle is on the upswing and is expected to peak in 2025, which means more opportunities for solar storms — and auroras.

Strong geomagnetic storms were also observed on Sunday (April 10). But according to the Solar Influences Data Analysis Center, there have been no other Earth-directed CMEs observed in the past 24 hours other than the one spit out by AR2987’s remnants. 

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India boosts military presence as
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On volatile border between India and China, a high-altitude military buildup is underway

0003

A close-up of a heliport under construction in Rutog County.

0001

On volatile border between India and China, a high-altitude military buildup is underway

0004

Construction crews are now scattered around Ladakh as Indian authorities speed up their infrastructure race with China.

0005

An overview of a heliport under construction near Aksai Chin Lake, in a region administered by China but contested by India, on May 28.

0002

An overview of a heliport under construction in Rutog County in the Ngari Prefecture of the Tibet Autonomous Region of China, on Nov. 28.

0003 0001 0004 0005 0002

BEIJING’S ISLAND-BUILDING IN THE SOUTH CHINA SEA

Runway

Runway

China is expanding the construction of its facilities on Fiery Cross Reef. Provided by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI), this June 28, 2015 photo reveals Beijing has nearly completed a 3,000 meter (9,800-foot) airstrip, long enough to accommodate most Chinese military aircraft. Two h...

Expansion

Expansion

Reclamation on Fiery Cross Reef, which lies on the west side of the Spratly Islands, began in August of 2014 and its principal landmass was finished by November. Dredgers have created a land mass that spans the entire existing reef and is approximately 3,000 meters long and 200-300 meters wide.

Facilities

Facilities

This picture taken last November shows construction work being carried out on Fiery Cross Reef. The reef reportedly already houses a helicopter landing pad, a 300-meter-long wharf, a harbor large enough to dock military tankers, barracks and artillery emplacements.

South Johnson Reef

South Johnson Reef

This reef was one of the first facilities to finish principal land reclamation. This recent picture shows that a radar tower is nearing completion at the north end of the land mass. According to AMTI, a new large multi-level military facility has been built in the center of the island. Up to six sur...

A naval base?

A naval base?

Beginning in early 2015, Mischief Reef - also located in the Spratlys - has undergone extensive reclamation activity. Experts say that the recent widening of the southern entrance to the reef, coupled with sightings of Chinese navy vessels, may suggest a future role for the reclaimed reef as a naval...

From reef to island

From reef to island

Significant construction on Gaven Reef began in 2014, with a total of 114,000 square meters of land already created. Satellite pictures show just how fast construction has progressed on the reef. A new artificial island was created between March (left) and August (right) 2014.

Troop garrison

Troop garrison

According to AMTI, China has had a troop garrison on Gaven Reef since 2003, which has included a large supply platform where ships can dock. Experts say a new main square building in the reef appears to be an anti-aircraft tower.

A standardized process

A standardized process

As seen in this image, the basic process of expanding these features involves dredging sand from the seafloor and dumping it onto the reefs. The structure is raised above the high water line, hiding the status of the bank or reef beneath. The sand is then smoothed out and workers surround the island...

'Historic rights'

'Historic rights'

China claims most of the potentially energy-rich waterway, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. The US Pacific Fleet commander recently said China was "creating a great wall of sand" in the South China Sea, causing serious concerns about its territorial intentions. Beijin...

Territorial disputes

Territorial disputes

The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have overlapping claims, which have led to territorial disputes in the area. Last summer, China's deployment of a massive oil rig in waters also claimed by Hanoi escalated tensions in the region, sparking a standoff at sea and violent anti-C...

US concerns

US concerns

Washington is concerned China's efforts carry a military dimension that could undermine the US' naval and economic power in the Pacific, and has weighed sending warships and surveillance aircraft within 12 nautical miles of the new artificial islands. Washington has repeatedly called on Beijing and ...

Ecological impact

Ecological impact

The Philippines filed a formal plea at the UN last year, challenging Beijing's territorial claims. Manila said China's reclamation activities are causing "irreversible and widespread damage to the biodiversity and ecological balance of the South China Sea." It also claimed that the destruction of co...

Runway Expansion Facilities South Johnson Reef A naval base? From reef to island Troop garrison A standardized process 'Historic rights' Territorial disputes US concerns Ecological impact

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