Sun emits two powerful X-class solar flares, resulting in strong radio blackout

October 30, 2013 by  
Filed under Solar Energy Tips

The sun spewed out three enormous X-class solar flares Friday morning, an X1.7 flare at 4:01 a.m. EDT and an even more powerful X2.1 seven hours later. An X-class solar flare is the most intense class of flares and can disrupt radio communications and power grids, cause havoc with orbiting spacecraft, and endanger astronauts. The last time an X-class flare erupted from the sun’s surface was on May 14, 2013.

According to NASA, we should start seeing a lot of flare activity over the coming months because the sun is at a point in its roughly 11-year solar cycle when solar activity is at its greatest and most intense. The sun’s heightened fire-belching behavior, known as the solar maximum, doesn’t occur on a particular day or over the period of a week or a month but takes place over a extended period of more than a year.

The regular pattern of increasing and decreasing solar flare activity during the sun’s 11-year cycle resembles a gently rolling sine wave rather than the jagged peaks of a heart monitor, Art Poland, an astrophysicist with George Mason University told the Christian Science Monitor.

“We’re just on the other side of the top of the sine wave right now,” Dr. Poland said. “You get your biggest flares and biggest magnetic disruptions on the way down.”

Solar flares are classified as A, B, C, M, or X, in ascending order of peak strength. While A-class flares are barely distinguishable from background solar radiation, X-class flares can be the biggest, most powerful explosions in our solar system, producing energy equivalent to a billion hydrogen bombs.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Center recorded a strong blackout as a result of Friday’s super-intense solar flares.

“A spot group just on the visible disk, dubbed Region 1882, generated an impulsive R3 (Strong) Radio Blackout at 0801 UTC (4:01 a.m. EDT) on October 25,” the report stated.

The highest level of radio blackout is an R5, which can cause a total radio and navigational signal blackout for several hours, according to NASA. The most powerful solar flare ever recorded was an X45 on Nov. 4, 2003.

We Earthlings are in no danger from solar flares or the massive coronal mass ejections (CMEs) that sometimes accompany them. Although CMEs bombard Earth’s magnetosphere with streams of highly charged particles, we are protected from the rain of radiation by our planet’s magnetic field.

“Our Earth is living in a star. We’re living in the atmosphere of the sun,” Poland said. “We’re trying to study [solar flares and CMEs] like weather, and make predictions and monitor them just like we do weather on Earth, so that power companies and satellite operations and others will be prepared well in advance for anything that might happen.”

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