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article imageSunspot AR1429 erupts with major X1.1 solar flare

By JohnThomas Didymus     Mar 5, 2012 in Science
The Sun has erupted once more, after a relatively quiet February. Following the appearance of a new active sunspot AR1429 on March 2, it erupted on March 5 with a major X1-class flare, sending a storm of plasma and charged particles towards the Earth.
Space.com reports that the Space Weather Prediction Center operated by the National Weather Service have classed the latest flare which erupted from the Sun at 11:13 p.m. EST (0413 GMT March 5) an X1.1-class solar flare. The flare erupted from the massive sunspot region AR1429 that has been very active since it first emerged on March 2, 2012. According to Spaceweather.com, solar activity is now high and the sunspot AR1429 is "crackling with strong flares."
Astronomy Now reports that the new sunspot AR 1429 is almost four times the size of the Earth and should be visible in solar scopes and on projected images.
X-class flares are the most powerful of solar storms. According to Universe Today, the weakest flares are B-class, followed by C,M and X flares in order of increasing power. Each step in the scale represents a ten-fold increase in energy output, meaning that an X flare is 10 times stronger than an M flare and 100 times stronger than a C flare.
C-class flares are generally too weak to affect the Earth, but M-class flares can cause brief radio blackouts at the poles and minor radiation storms that can endanger astronauts. The most powerful flare ever recorded, according to Universe Today, was one that occurred in 2003 during the last solar maximum. The flare was so powerful that it overloaded measuring equipment at X28 rating. According to Universe Today, such flares can create lasting radiation storms that can deliver significant radiation doses even to airline passengers and create global blackouts.
 The Solar Dynamics Observatory captured the X1 flare  shown here in the 171 Angstrom wavelength  a ...
"The Solar Dynamics Observatory captured the X1 flare, shown here in the 171 Angstrom wavelength, a wavelength typically shown in the color gold. This movie runs from 10 PM ET March 4 to 3 AM March 5, 2012."
SDO/NASA
Space.com reports that NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory and Solar Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO), observed the extreme ultraviolet flash from the latest X-class flare. Experts say this is the second X-class solar flare in 2012. Digital Journal reports that the first occurred on January 27 and was rated an X1.7 on the space weather scale.
The latest flare that erupted on March 5 unleashed a coronal mass ejection (CME) consisting of plasma and charged particles. Spaceweather.com reports the CME will likely miss the Earth, but experts say they are looking out for minor geomagnetic storms which they expect to last from late Tuesday (March 6) to Wednesday (March 7).
Spaceweather.com reports: "According to analysts at the Goddard Space Weather Lab, the CME will probably miss Earth, although it will hit Mercury and Venus. Even if this CME misses, high-latitude sky watchers should still be alert for auroras in the nights ahead."
 This image from the Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager (HMI) on the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) ...
"This image from the Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager (HMI) on the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) shows active region 1429 in the upper left corner. This region erupted with M-class flares on March 2 and March 4."
NASA/SDO/HMI
In the event that a CME hits the Earth directly, it can cause major disruptions to satellites, power grids and communications systems on Earth. CMEs associated with strong flares also pose potential hazard to astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS).
The flares can also intensify aurora displays (northern and southern lights) in high latitude regions, a welcome spectacle for sky watchers.
The active sunspot region AR1429 that produced the latest flare also produced an M2-class eruption on March 2. NASA reports that on March 2 and March 4, 2012, after AR1429 rotated into view, it let loose two M-class flares before the latest X1.1 flare. According to NASA, a CME accompanied each flare. The CME from the second M-class flare is expected to hit the Earth at around 11:30 p.m. EST (0430 GMT Tuesday, March 6). The arrival of the CME from the X1.1 flare may thus serve to amplify geomagnetic storms arising from the first flares.
Astronomers say the Sun observes an 11-year cycle in which its activity rises and diminishes. The Sun is now approaching peak activity of Solar Cylce 24 in 2013.
More about Sun, Solar flare, Eruption, x11, Ar1429
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