A large, complex sunspot group designated Active Region 1944 has rotated onto the Earth-facing side of the solar disk.
All of 2013, supposedly the peak in Cycle 24, left solar observers feeling cheated: few sunspots, even fewer auroras, and no real solar storms to speak of.
January 1st was also when one of the largest sunspot groups of this solar cycle rotated around the limb and into view. Designated AR (Active Region) 1944, this giant is roughly 100,000 miles across. Earlier today my wife (blessed with keen vision) glimpsed it by eye through a glass solar filter without much trouble; it was more of a struggle for me.
This isn't a single sunspot but rather a group of many clustered together. "It's impressively complex," notes Tom Fleming, a veteran solar observer. "I got a count of 26 yesterday but I could only rate the conditions as 'fair' . . . too much turbulence. The actual count is probably closer to 45." Fleming notes this was already a mature group when it rounded into view, so at its peak the count was likely higher.
This group should reach the center of the solar disk in about 3 days. Because it's located near the solar equator, space-weather watchers will be on the alert for flares, which might direct a blast of relativistic energy Earth's way.
In the meantime, it's an excellent grouping to view through a telescope equipped with a safe solar filter. If you don't have the right filter, set up binoculars on a tripod, uncover one side, and point toward Sun. Don't look through the binoculars, but instead project the Sun's image onto a white card placed behind the eyepiece.