NASA’s IRIS captures its biggest solar flare of the year

February 26, 2014 by  
Filed under Solar Energy Tips

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory has recorded the largest solar flare of 2014.

The massive X4.9-class solar flare erupted Monday at 7:50 p.m. EST. Radio emissions from the flare’s shockwaves indicate it had an expansion velocity of 4.4 million miles per hour. The Observatory described the powerful explosion of electromagnetic light and energy as “significant.”

Scientists still don’t know much detail about what sets off a solar flare. What they do know is that a solar flare eruption happens when magnetic field lines from deep within the sun rise into the solar atmosphere, releasing stupendous amounts of electromagnetic radiation.

Images of Monday’s flare were snapped by NASA’s Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) satellite. The X-class flare was the largest seen by IRIS since its launch in June of 2013.

The IRIS’s mission is to stare at a particular region of the sun with never-before-achieved resolution. IRIS examines the chromosphere, the portion of the sun’s atmosphere just above the surface that’s crucial in regulating the flow of matter and energy as they leave the sun’s surface and travel to outer space.

“Some people worry that a gigantic ‘killer solar flare’ could hurl enough energy to destroy Earth, but this is not actually possible,” NASA explained. Nevertheless, electromagnetic radiation and high-energy particles do sometimes reach our planet where they cause disruptions in communications, satellites, electric power grids, and global positioning systems.

The images show that the flare wasn’t released in Earth’s direction, which explains why scientists aren’t expecting strong geomagnetic storms. But it did trigger a radio blackout, according to NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center.

The IRIS witnessed its last most powerful solar flare, an M-class flare, on Jan. 28 after it identified a “magnetically active region on the sun.”

And on Jan. 8, the commercial spaceflight company Orbital Sciences was forced to reschedule launch of its resupply cargo mission to the International Space Station because of a huge solar flare.

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