Sun as an orange disc against darkness. There's a notable blotchy dark sunspot on the far right.

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory captured this view of the sun on Jan. 23, 2023. Look to the far right for the sunspot NOAA AR 13190.

Solar eclipse glasses aren’t just for solar eclipses. You can use them to keep tabs on the activity of our nearest and dearest star. The sun has been sporting a stunning beauty mark over the last few days, and you might be able to catch it before it hides. Just be sure to use proper eye protection, like legitimate eclipse glasses, when you sungaze.

Solar observatories have been tracking sunspot NOAA AR 13190, a jumbo dark region that’s several times the size of Earth. The European Space Agency’s space weather team shared an image last week that shows just how big it is, with Earth for scale.

I got a good look at the splotch with a pair of eclipse glasses. There’s something thrilling about seeing the glowing disc of the sun with a little blemish clearly visible. It’s a different kind of thrill than you get with an eclipse, more of a “wow” than a “whoa,” like catching sight of a meteor streak.

A sunspot is a dark region on the sun caused by the activity of the star’s magnetic field. The goth look is due to the spot being cooler than the surrounding area. According to NASA, “Sunspots are often precursors to solar flares — intense outbursts of energy from the surface of the sun — so monitoring sunspots is important to understanding why and how flares occur.” The sun’s outbursts can have an impact on spacecraft and communications equipment around Earth.   

If you’re lucky, you still have a small window of opportunity to catch 13190. The big sunspot is heading out of view, but there’s a chance it might stick around long enough to rotate back into sight. We’ll have to wait and see. Keep your eclipse glasses handy. The sun has been pretty rowdy lately. There could be more good sunspots to come.

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