Days of intense sun storms resulted in a colossal solar flare erupting from the surface that knocked out radio communications on Earth. The solar flare was classified as a X1.8 event, one of the most powerful possible. The flare was photographed by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory.
As the solar storms continue, scientists are watching the sunspots to see if more solar flares emerge. Scientist say that the region of the sun where the solar flare originated could produce more flares in the coming days that will continue to cause radio blackouts across the planet. That region is classified as Active Region 2242, according to a Space.com report. Another active region of the sun produced two smaller solar flares early last week.
Sunspots involve concentrations of the sun’s magnetic field that result in a lower surface temperature, making them appear darker than the surrounding regions of the sun’s surface. Sunspots typically appear in pairs, with one having the opposite magnetic polarity as the other. Because they are so highly magnetically active, they produce solar flares that release the energy equivalent of 160,000,000,000 megatons of TNT. The atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II were equivalent to three megatons of TNT.
These strong events have the ability to disrupt numerous systems on Earth, including radio communications, satellite communications, and GPS systems. They can also cause issues for astronauts and the International Space Station. The communications disruption from this solar flare occurred mainly in Australia and the South Pacific. According to scientists, the sun follows an 11-year space weather cycle that has peaks and valleys during the cycle. They are currently charting the sun in the peak phase of Solar Cycle 24.
M-class flares are much more common than X-class flares and are about a tenth of the size of the larger flares. These weaker flares are what causes the amazing colorful displays of the Northern Lights. A number of M-class flares are expected to occur this weekend, increasing the intensity of the Northern Lights for some viewers in particular locations.