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NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) captured this image of a solar flare – as seen in the bright flash on the lower right – on Feb. 9, 2024. (Photo credit: NASA/SDO)

NASA Detects Big Sunspot Cluster: Risk Rising for Solar Storm That Could Fry the Power Grid

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NASA has identified a large cluster of sunspots or dark spots on the sun that have grown in size over the last month and could increase the risk of the Earth experiencing strong solar flares. 

NASA found the sunspot cluster known as AR3576 in late January from photographs taken by NASA's Perseverance rover on Mars, according to Fox News

The magnetic fields of sunspots are thousands of times more powerful than Earth's. 

As CBN News recently reported, the sun's surface is growing more active, and serious anomalies can happen when that takes place. While that's great news for amateur astronomers who are set to see some amazing solar fireworks through their telescopes, it could be bad news for power grids and communication satellites circling the Earth.

Solar flares occur when magnetic energy builds up in the solar atmosphere and is released in an intense burst of electromagnetic radiation, according to

This burst of energy can impact radio communications, electric power grids, navigation signals, and pose risks to spacecraft and astronauts. 

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On Friday, NASA's Sun and Space X account posted a video showing the sunspots. The spots are usually as large as the Earth. But AR3576 is more than 93,000 miles long or nearly four times the circumference of our planet and more magnetically complex. 

NASA also announced the sun released a strong solar flare on Friday. This flare was classified as an X3.3 flare. The agency classifies solar flares from the smallest or B-class, followed by C, M, and X, the largest or most intense. The number following the letter signifies its strength.

Luckily, this time, Earth wasn't in the solar flare's path. 

"Goodness knows how big this flare would have been if it had happened this side of the sun," solar physicist Keith Strong wrote in a post on X

But this doesn't mean the Earth wasn't affected. The X-class flare caused extensive radio blackouts. Traveling at the speed of light, the radiation reached Earth in just over eight minutes, causing shortwave radio blackouts on the sunlit portion of the planet, which included South America, Africa, and the Southern Atlantic, according to

The U.S. space agency on Sunday posted its weekly space weather report to X, along with a little more than three-minute video of the sun's activity over the past week. 

"Happy #SunDay!" NASA wrote. "This week's space weather report includes:
· 4 C-class flares
· 20 M-class flares
· 19 coronal mass ejections
· 0 geomagnetic storms

It's the Coronal Mass Ejections (CME) that hurl charged matter out across the solar system like a giant shotgun, resulting in a potentially disruptive solar storm. 

Geomagnetic Storm Watch Through Wednesday

Currently, the Earth is under a Geomagnetic Storm Watch from Feb. 12 - 14, according to The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC). However, the agency says the public should not be concerned, but the Northern Lights might become visible from the Northeast to some upper Midwest states, from New York to Idaho. 

The SWPC has predicted more sunspots, and the potential of elevated activity this year. 

"As we approach the peak of Solar Cycle 25, we should expect to see more sunspots, each of which is a region of intense magnetic activity capable of producing solar flares and coronal mass ejections, or CMEs. This period of elevated activity can last up to several years, with impactful space weather events possible in 2024," the SWPC said last month. 

Scientists continue to monitor sunspots to assess potential threats as more sunspots are expected. Last month, more than 120 sunspots were counted on the sun, according to the SWPC.

Most Powerful Solar Storm in 150 Years Missed the Earth in 2012

As CBN News reported, on July 23, 2012, an eruption on the Sun sent giant particle clouds hurtling through space at 6.7 million miles per hour, missing Earth but passing straight through a satellite in its path. Scientists say that extreme solar storm is believed to have been the most powerful in at least 150 years. 

Dr. Doug Biesecker is a solar physicist with NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center. He said what keeps him up at night about space weather is missing the forecast of the one in a 100-year surface storm on the sun.

"The sort of storm that would cause a widespread power outage. You know you could imagine maybe the entire Northeast losing power for at least a few hours if not for a day or more," Biesecker said. 

Analysts say a direct hit by an extreme CME like the one in July 2012 could be catastrophic, leading to widespread power blackouts.

A study by the National Academy of Sciences reported the total economic impact could be more than $2 trillion -- 20 times greater than the cost of Hurricane Katrina.

Grid Operators Have Been Watching

As CBN News reported in December 2021, grid operators in some regions of the country have been heeding warnings to prepare for solar storms and sunspots blasting particles into space. 

William Murtagh's group at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) maintains a direct line with all the electric companies in the event of a geomagnetic eruption.

"When we see one of these large eruptions occurring in the sun, what we call Coronal Mass Ejection, coming towards Earth, we initiate this hotline call and we make communication with essentially the entire grid, owners and operators across the nation," Murtagh, who serves as program coordinator at NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center, told CBN News. 

Murtagh says electricity operators are now constantly assessing areas of vulnerability. 

"If there's vulnerability in certain equipment, maybe they can modify that equipment, the manufacturing of that equipment, to make it hardened, to make it better protected against a geomagnetic storm," Murtagh said. "There are many different actions they can take to ensure that the grid stays up and running during these big geomagnetic storms."

However, it doesn't take a storm of high intensity to severely damage infrastructure. In 1972, a solar storm caused as many as 4,000 magnetically sensitive mines in the waters off Vietnam to detonate, while briefly fooling a U.S. Department of Defense satellite into thinking that the Russians had just set off a nuclear bomb. In 1989, a storm knocked out power in Quebec for nine hours, according to The Wall Street Journal

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About The Author

Steve Warren is a senior multimedia producer for CBN News. Warren has worked in the news departments of television stations and cable networks across the country. In addition, he also worked as a producer-director in television production and on-air promotion. A Civil War historian, he authored the book The Second Battle of Cabin Creek: Brilliant Victory. It was the companion book to the television documentary titled Last Raid at Cabin Creek currently streaming on Amazon Prime. He holds an M.A. in Journalism from the University of Oklahoma and a B.A. in Communication from the University of