Incredible time-lapse photo captures the sun during an 8-year sunspot peak

Frame-by-frame image of the two major sunspot groups moving across the surface of the Sun between December 2 and 27, 2022, taken by Chenol Chanli. (Image credit: Chenol Shanley)

A stunning new time-lapse photograph shows two bands of changing sunspots moving across the Sun’s surface as our host star orbits at the center of the solar system. When the mesmerizing image was taken, the total number of sunspots was the highest in eight years, suggesting that solar activity is about to climb another notch.

Shenol Shanly (will open in a new tab), an amateur astrophotographer from Bursa, Turkey, created a new image using data from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. Painting (will open in a new tab), which Shanli shared on his Instagram account on January 2. 3 is a composite of individual shots taken between December 2 and 27, 2022. The two bands of developing clusters in the image belong to a pair of particularly large sunspot groups: A3176, located north of the solar equator; and A3153 in the Sun’s southern hemisphere, both of which moved from east to west (from right to left in the image). Shangli digitally removed other visible sunspots on the Sun’s surface from this period, allowing the observer to track minute changes in sunspot groups over time.

On the subject: Can sunspots affect the weather?

Close-up of evolving sunspots. (Image credit: Chenol Shanley) (will open in a new tab)

Sunspots are areas of the visible surface of the Sun or planet-sized photosphere with elevated magnetic fields. The spots are not actually black; they seem darker (will open in a new tab) than the rest of the photosphere because they are much colder than their surroundings. Scientists track these areas of strong magnetism because they can spit out potentially damaging solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs).

More than 113 sunspots were detected on the surface of the Sun in December 2022, the most since December 2014, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Center. (will open in a new tab). This number is a significant increase from the rest of 2022, which saw an average of 73.3 sunspots per month until December.

The increase in sunspots is the result of the Sun entering a more active phase of its 11-year solar cycle, which peaks in 2025. In 2022, scientists have recorded an increase (will open in a new tab) in the frequency and strength of solar storms, and 2023 is likely to be even more active if sunspot numbers remain high or increase further.

Several major solar storms have already occurred this year. Jan. 3, an alleged X-class solar flare, the most powerful flare the sun can produce, exploded on the far side of the sun. (will open in a new tab). Just three days later, the sun erupted a confirmed X-class flare from the same spot. And on Jan. 4, the Earth’s magnetic field has been damaged by a potentially destructive CME. (will open in a new tab) just at the moment when the planet reached its closest point to the Sun, known as perihelion.

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