Still Got Those Eclipse Glasses? Put Them Back On to See Huge Sunspots

If you didn't donate your eclipse glasses already, hold onto them for a little bit longer. Despite the name, the glasses can be used to look at the Sun anytime, and right now, you can use them to see some pretty amazing sunspots.

As Bob King of the astronomy blog Astro Bob writes, "Two large sunspot groups, regions 2673 and 2674, have made a beautiful mess of the Sun's otherwise smooth complexion." The latter has become one of the largest sunspots of the year.

Sunspots are areas of intense magnetic fields that appear dark against the surface of the Sun because they're cooler than the areas around them. Their presence is linked to space weather events like solar flares and coronal mass ejections. Their number waxes and wanes in roughly 11-year periods, and as astronomer Phil Plait tells Mental Floss, "we’re sliding into the minimum now." But that doesn't mean there are no sunspots. The longest period of time the Sun has gone without observable sunspots in the past few years was 15 days in March 2017.

This NASA video below shows the movement of a sunspot in July. That one was about 78,000 miles across—nearly 10 times the size of Earth.

Since sunspot sightings are on the downswing for now, this latest appearance is a good reason to get outside and stare at the Sun—with a few safety measures, of course. "These beauties just showed up a few days ago," Plait says. "Sunspots big enough to see with the naked eye are rare, but these are big enough to spot with proper protection."

Hopefully you didn't toss your eclipse glasses immediately after the August dalliance with totality, because there will be plenty of other solar events to look at before the next big solar eclipse in the U.S. in 2024. As always, we must remind you not to stare directly into the Sun, or at best, you'll probably see more spots than you bargained for. If you're not sure about the provenance of your eclipse glasses, make sure to check the certification listed on the temples.

[h/t Astro Bob and Phil Plait]

Learn Python From Home for Just $50

Andrea Piacquadio / Pexels.com
Andrea Piacquadio / Pexels.com

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The Reason Some People Never Return Shopping Carts, According to Science

Abandoned shopping carts could be a sign of social dysfunction.
Abandoned shopping carts could be a sign of social dysfunction.
adisa/iStock via Getty Images

On the spectrum of aberrant behavior, leaving a shopping cart in the middle of a parking space doesn’t quite rise to the level of homicide. But poor cart etiquette is nonetheless a breakdown of the social fabric, one in which some consumers express little regard for others by failing to return a cart to its proper place. Why does this happen?

In a piece for Scientific American, Krystal D’Costa examined some plausible reasons why shoppers avoid the cart receptacle. It might be too far from where they parked, they might have a child that makes returning it difficult, the weather might be bad, or they might have physical limitations that make returning it challenging. Alternately, they may simply believe it’s the job of the supermarket or store employee to fetch their used cart.

According to D’Costa, cart returners might be motivated by social pressure—they fear a disapproving glance from others—or precedent. If no other carts have been tossed aside, they don’t want to be first.

People who are goal-driven aren’t necessarily concerned with such factors. Their desire to get home, remain with their child, or stay dry overrides societal guidelines.

Ignoring those norms if a person feels they’re not alone in doing so was examined in a study [PDF] published in the journal Science in 2008. In the experiment, researchers observed two alleys where bicycles were parked. Both alleys had signs posted prohibiting graffiti. Despite the sign, one of them had markings on the surfaces. Researchers then stuck a flyer to the bicycle handles to see how riders would react. In the alley with graffiti, 69 percent threw it aside or stuck it on another bicycle. In the alley with no graffiti, only 33 percent of the subjects littered. The lesson? People might be more likely to abandon social order if the environment surrounding them is already exhibiting signs of neglect.

In another experiment, researchers performed the flyer trial with a parking lot that had carts organized and carts scattered around at separate times. When carts were everywhere, 58 percent of people left the flyers on the ground compared to 30 percent when the carts were cared for.

Social examples are clearly influential. The more people return carts, the more likely others will do the same. There will, of course, be outliers. Some readers wrote to D’Costa following her first piece to state that they didn’t return carts in order to keep store workers busy and gainfully employed, ignoring the fact that the primary function of those staff members is to get the carts from the receptacle and back to the store. It’s also rarely their primary job.

Until returning carts becomes universally-accepted behavior, random carts will remain a fixture of parking lots. And ALDI will continue charging a quarter deposit to grab one.  

[h/t Scientific American]