Sun hurls ‘strongest solar flare’ with rare X2.2 rating as Nasa warns of radio blackouts and stunning northern lights
THE STRONGEST solar flare detected in years erupted from the Sun on Wednesday.
The violent volley of particles is said to have caused blackouts in Australia, the Western Pacific and eastern Asia.
It’s one of 19 flares to have emerged from an unusually active sunspot in recent days, according to astronomer Dr Tony Phillips.
Writing on his website spaceweather.com, which tracks the sun’s activity, he predicted more flares throughout this week.
“The fusillade is likely to continue as colossal sunspot complex AR2993-94 turns toward Earth in the days ahead,” Dr Phillips said.
The flurry of activity could trigger showings of the Northern Lights as solar radiation strikes Earth’s atmosphere.
It’s unlikely we’ll see another flare as intense as Wednesday’s X-class blast, however.
Images from Nasa’s Solar Dynamics Observatory show that the X2.2 eruption erupted at 4:57 a.m. UK time (11:57 p.m. EST on Tuesday).
Thankfully, it was fired from the Sun’s far side and posed no threat to Earth as it scorched in a different direction.
Radiation from the flare did, however, cause a brief radio blackout over southeast Asia and Australia, according to Dr Phillips.
“Mariners and ham radio operators in the area may have noticed the loss of radio contact at frequencies below 30 MHz for as much as an hour,” he wrote.
It could have been much worse. Had the flare struck our planet with a direct hit, it could have knocked out power grids and satellites.
Solar flares are huge expulsions of hot material called plasma from the Sun’s outer layer.
They can impact radio communications, power grids, navigation signals, and pose risks to spacecraft and astronauts.
Flares are ranked by letter, with the biggest labelled as “X-class.” The smallest flares are “A-class.”
The number following the letter provides more information about an eruption’s strength.
An X2 is twice as intense as an X1, an X3 is three times as intense, and so on.
As an X2.2, Tuesday’s flare is the most powerful detected during this solar cycle, a period that kicked off in 2019 and spans 11 years.
There’s a chance that a coronal mass ejection (CME) – a slower volley of particles – will shortly follow suit.
CMEs take longer to reach Earth than flares and, should one appear, could spark displays of the Northern Lights.
Flares and CMEs can lead to the appearance of colourful auroras by energising particles in our planet’s atmosphere
Scientists, however, aren’t yet sure if Earth would be in the path of any CMEs hot on the heels of Wednesday’s flare.
The sun is currently at the start of a new 11-year solar cycle, which usually sees eruptions and flares grow more intense and extreme.
These events are expected to peak around 2025 and it’s hoped Nasa’s Solar Orbiter spacecraft will observe them all as it aims to fly within 26 million miles of the sun.
In the past, larger solar flares have wreaked havoc on our planet.
In 1989, a strong solar eruption shot so many electrically charged particles at Earth that the Canadian Province of Quebec lost power for nine hours.
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