Every time you look, sunspot 1271 has a new outline. For the past two days the active region has been in a constant state of change, altering its shape on an hourly basis. Click on the image for 48 hours of shape-shifting:

These rapid changes have caused the sunspot's magnetic field to criss-cross and tangle. The magnetic field now has a "beta-gamma" configuration that harbors energy for M-class solar flares. Any such flares today would be approximately Earth-directed because the sunspot is not far from disk-center.

Sunspot 1271 is so big, it's catching the attention of observers unaided by solar telescopes. Sarah E. Baur of Anaconda, Montana, noticed it yesterday through the smoke of a nearby fire:

Sunspot 1271
© Sarah E. Baur
Image Taken: Aug. 22 2011
Location: Anaconda, Montana
"Our small town was inundated with smoke from surrounding forest fires," says Baur. "At 6:30 pm the sun appeared in and out through the thick smoke making a great photo op. I realized after viewing the shots on my monitor that sunspot 1271 is also visible."

More Images:
From Isabell Lembke of the Netherlands; from Enrico Perissinotto of Premariacco - Italy; from Craig & Tammy Temple of Hendersonville, TN; from Guenter Kleinschuster of Feldbach, Styria, Austria; from Ron Cottrell of Oro Valley, Arizona; from Francesc Pruneda Agusti of Palamós, Catalonia, Spain