NASA Solar Observatory captures solar flares in October
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An active region on the Sun was seen bursting to life on Tuesday and has released an M2-class or “medium-large” solar flare. The sudden burst of energy was recorded at about 5.01pm GMT on the Sun’s northeastern side. A sequence of images snapped by NASA’S Solar Dynamics Observatory shows an intense burst of light erupt from the Sun’s surface.
According to the European Space Agency (ESA), solar flares are “tremendous explosions” that occur when energy stored in “twisted” magnetic fields are suddenly released.
In a matter of minutes, the outburst heats up the material streaming from the Sun to millions of degrees.
The blasts also release tremendous amounts of radiation from across the electromagnetic spectrum, such as radio and X-rays, as well as gamma radiation.
Solar flares are ranked on a scale of C-class to X-class, based on their brightness and X-ray wavelengths.
The weakest, C-class flares, typically go unnoticed by most as they tend not to disrupt tech on Earth.
X-class flares are much more concerning as they have the potential to knock out radio communications and trigger radiation storms in the upper reaches of the atmosphere.
One such flare erupted from the Sun last month and was followed by a significant coronal mass ejection (CME) – a large stream of plasma and magnetic field from the Sun’s atmosphere.
Today’s storm was an M2-class, meaning it was medium-sized but still big enough to disrupt communications over parts of the planet.
Medium-sized flares are sometimes followed by minor radiation storms and CMEs.
According to the website SpaceWeather.com, the flare appears to have knocked out some radio communications over the Americas.
NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory captures solar flare
The website said: “An active region located just behind the Sun’s northeastern limb unleashed a strong M2-class solar flare today, November 9, at 5.01pm UT.
“X-rays from the flare caused a minor shortwave radio blackout over the Americas.
“The explosion almost certainly produced a CME, but it won’t be Earth-directed because of the blast’s farside location.”
Coronal mass ejections are large clouds of solar plasma and magnetic field that can interact with the Earth’s magnetosphere after a solar eruption.
According to NASA, they often measure many millions of miles across as they fan out into space.
CMEs erupt from the solar corona, which is the upper layer of the star’s atmosphere.
When they reach our planet, they can trigger a wide range of effects.
The US space agency explained: “When directed at Earth, a CME can produce geomagnetic disturbances that ignite bright aurora, short-circuit satellites and power grids on Earth, or at their worst, even endanger astronauts in orbit.”
Auroras are the most notable effect and typically appear in the polar circles – the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) and the Southern Lights (Aurora Australis).
Auroras are caused by charged particles from the Sun smashing into atoms and molecules of gas in the atmosphere, exciting them to new energy levels,
As the atoms return to their normal state, they give off the excess energy in the forms of light or photos.
Auroras typically glow green, although they can range from red to yellow to blue to violet.
However, CMEs can also be disruptive as, depending on their intensity, they have the potential to knock out power grids, disrupt satellite operations and interfere with spacecraft.
CMEs trigger solar or geomagnetic storms that are ranked on a scale of “G1 Minor” to “G5 Extreme”.
A “G3 Strong” storm has recently produced beautiful red auroras in the skies over the US.
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