Sun's face with spot

The large sunspot 10397 (seen here on July 3, 2003) will remain visible on the solar surface until roughly the 10th. All you need to view it is a safe solar filter. A telescope helps, but the spot is so large you can see it without one.

Courtesy SOHO.

Despite an overall decline in solar activity, the Sun occasionally surprises observers by generating a large sunspot. Designated active region 10397, the spot is large enough to be visible without magnification — all you need to see it is a sunny day and a safe solar filter. Of course, a properly filtered telescope makes the view even better.

Sunspots are dark blemishes on the Sun's photosphere, or visible surface. They form where the solar magnetic field traps ionized gas and allows it to cool. Whereas the photosphere's average temperature is 5,700° Kelvin, in the dark center ("umbra") of a sunspot, where the field is strongest, it's about 2,000°K cooler. If you could view a sunspot by itself, it would appear blazingly bright. But in contrast with its even brighter surroundings, it appears dark. The umbra of a large spot is typically surrounded by a lighter penumbra, where the magnetic field isn't quite as strong.

The Sun turns on its axis roughly once a month, so this large spot will remain on the Earth-facing side of the solar disk until approximately July 10th. Remember, never look at the Sun without proper eye protection. There are a variety of ways to safely observe the Sun, many of which can be found in the solar observing section of our Web site. If it's cloudy at your observing site, you can check out the latest solar images from the Big Bear Solar Observatory.


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