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article imageNOAA — Sun spews out steady stream of solar flares for week

By Karen Graham     Sep 13, 2017 in Science
For over a week now, our sun has been spewing out a continuous stream of solar flares, causing NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center to issue a geomagnetic storm warning on Tuesday and Wednesday.
While it may sound alarming, it is actually something star's do every now and then, and with our star, the sun, it is part of its 11-year cycle. One notable solar flare occurred shortly after 8 a.m. EDT, on September 6, and was rated at an X9.3 magnitude - the highest since 2006. Another flare on the same day was recorded at an X2.2 magnitude.
“This flare is the capstone on a series of flares, which was identified on Aug. 29 and is currently rotating off the front of the sun as part of our star’s normal rotation,” NASA SDO stated in a blog post. NASA SDO also noted that this level of activity was rare at this stage of the 11-year solar cycle.
According to NASA SDO, solar flares during this particular phase of the sun are increasingly rare, but they can still be quite intense. A series of smaller flares in Active Region 2673 preceded the Sept. 6 flare and an X8.2 flare was also observed on Sept. 10. So the sun has been working overtime the past couple of weeks.
Flares look like bright flashes of light on the sun. Coronal mass ejections look like clouds zooming...
Flares look like bright flashes of light on the sun. Coronal mass ejections look like clouds zooming out into space.
Classifying solar flares
Solar flares are massive explosions on the surface of the sun that send energy, light and high-speed particles into space. They are associated with solar magnetic storms known as coronal mass ejections (CMEs).
The number of flares increases every 11 years as the sun moves toward what is known as its maximum. Solar flares are now classified according to their strength or intensity. The smallest ones are A-class, followed by B, C, M and X, the largest.
The GOES spacecraft are satellites in geostationary orbits around the Earth that have measured the soft X-ray flux from the Sun since the mid-1970s, and it is the observations from the GEOS spacecraft that are commonly used to classify flares today.
Within a class there is a linear scale from 1 to 9.n (apart from X)  so an X2 flare is twice as powe...
Within a class there is a linear scale from 1 to 9.n (apart from X), so an X2 flare is twice as powerful as an X1 flare, and is four times more powerful than an M5 flare.
Large solar flares are a rarity
Here is an interesting bit of trivia for you - The most powerful solar flare ever recorded occurred at 11:18 AM on the cloudless morning of Thursday, September 1, 1859. The CME was witnessed by 33-year-old Richard Carrington—widely acknowledged to be one of England's foremost solar astronomers, using his telescope and projecting an 11-inch-wide image of the sun on a screen. This solar flare event is now known as "The Carrington Event."
Carrington was so astounded he ran to get someone to witness the event, later writing, "I hastily ran to call someone to witness the exhibition with me. On returning within 60 seconds, I was mortified to find that it was already much changed and enfeebled." But it was the following day when Carrington's unusual event bore fruit.
According to NASA's Science Blog, "Just before dawn the next day, skies all over planet Earth erupted in red, green, and purple auroras so brilliant that newspapers could be read as easily as in daylight. Indeed, stunning auroras pulsated even at near tropical latitudes over Cuba, the Bahamas, Jamaica, El Salvador, and Hawaii."
NASA s Solar Dynamics Observatory captured this image of a solar flare – as seen in the bright fla...
NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured this image of a solar flare – as seen in the bright flash on the right side – on Sept. 10, 2017. The image shows a combination of wavelengths of extreme ultraviolet light that highlights the extremely hot material in flares, which has then been colorized.
Telegraph systems worldwide went haywire. Spark discharges shocked telegraph operators and set the telegraph paper on fire. Even when telegraphers disconnected the batteries powering the lines, aurora-induced electric currents in the wires still allowed messages to be transmitted.
Today, we know what the unusual solar explosion Carrington observed is called, but in 1859, there were no X-ray satellites or radio telescopes. Until that particular day in September, no one even knew solar flares existed.
"It's rare that one can actually see the brightening of the solar surface," says David Hathaway, solar physics team lead at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. "It takes a lot of energy to heat up the surface of the sun!"
There have been a number of other very large solar flares to disrupt life here on Earth. A huge solar flare on August 4, 1972, knocked out long-distance telephone communication across Illinois.
And on March 13, 1989, a solar flare caused geomagnetic storms that disrupted electric power transmission from the Hydro Québec generating station in Canada, blacking out most of the province and plunging 6 million people into darkness for 9 hours.
156 Years Ago  on September 2nd  1859  A Geomagnetic Mega-Storm  The Carrington Event  Struck Earth ...
156 Years Ago, on September 2nd, 1859, A Geomagnetic Mega-Storm, The Carrington Event, Struck Earth's Magnetic Field.
NCIFiRestArter's Psy-Ambient Grove
The latest recorded huge solar flare happened on November 4, 2003. The intensity of the burst of radiation from the CME was so huge that even before the storm peaked, x-rays overloaded the detectors on the GEOS spacecraft, forcing scientists to estimate the flare's size.
Researchers had to use radio wave-based measurements of the x-rays' effects on the Earth's upper atmosphere to revise the flare's size from a merely huge X28 to a "whopping" X45, say researchers Neil Thomson, Craig Rodger, and Richard Dowden. from the University of Otago in New Zealand.
"This makes it more than twice as large as any previously recorded flare, and if the accompanying particle and magnetic storm had been aimed at the Earth, the damage to some satellites and electrical networks could have been considerable," says Thomson.
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