The moment a powerful solar flare exploded on our sun’s surface was captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory.
A strong X-class, which could be 10 times the size of Earth, was released from the blazing star’s surface at 12:52 a.m. ET on March 3, causing temporary shortwave radio outages across the Americas.
The blast of energy, which lasted seven minutes, shot out of a sunspot called AR 3234, located in the upper right corner of the sun’s surface, according to SpaceWeather. com.
The sunspot was first identified in February, but has since quadrupled in size, according to NASA.
The massive solar flare was spotted Friday by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory
“Fliers and radio amateurs may have noticed signal loss and other unusual propagation effects at frequencies below 30 MHz for up to an hour after the flare,” SpaceWeather reported Friday.
“Solar radio bursts now being reported by the US Air Force suggest the explosion may have also triggered a CME.”
CME, or coronal mass ejection, is a stream of energetic, highly magnetized, superheated gas released from the sun.
CMEs can eject billions of tons of corona material from the sun’s surface. The material consists of plasma and magnetic fields.
Such outbursts can cause space weather that can disrupt satellites and power grids on Earth and harm unprotected astronauts.
NASA reported that its craft registered the flare as an X2.1, part of a class that can cause radio blackouts worldwide and long-lasting radiation storms in the upper atmosphere.
And they can be up to 10 times the size of Earth, making them the largest kind of flares.
“The largest X-class flares are by far the largest explosions in the solar system and are amazing to watch,” said NASA.
NASA reported that its craft registered the flare as an X2.1, part of a class that can cause radio blackouts worldwide and long-lasting radiation storms in the upper atmosphere
The blast of energy, which lasted seven minutes, shot out of a sunspot called AR 3234
Loops tens of times the size of Earth jump up from the sun’s surface when the sun’s magnetic fields cross and reconnect.
“In the largest events, this reconnection process can produce as much energy as a billion hydrogen bombs.”
When the massive flare hit our planet, it interacted with the atmosphere and caused a blackout that lasted up to 30 minutes.
However, no significant problems arose.
NASA also reported a separate solar flare last month, which broke off the sun’s north pole.
A video shows a giant filament of plasma, or electrified gas, shooting out from the sun, breaking up and circulating in a “massive polar vortex.”
While astronomers are baffled, they speculate that the prominence has something to do with the reversal of the sun’s magnetic field that happens once in the solar cycle.
Scientists have yet to determine what caused the filament in the recent observation to swirl around the sun instead of blasting off into space.
The recent increase in solar activity comes as it approaches the most active phase in its 11-year solar cycle — reaching peak activity in 2024.
Astronomers are observing intense solar radiation, more ejection of solar materials, more sunspots and more intense solar flares.
When the massive flare hit our planet, it interacted with the atmosphere and caused a blackout that lasted up to 30 minutes
A piece of the sun broke off and circled the north pole like a tornado. This is the first time scientists have seen such an event
Studies have shown that the current level of solar activity is about the same as it was 11 years ago, at the same point in the last cycle.
In August 2022, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Gaia space probe made a chilling prediction that our sun is nearly halfway through its lifespan.
When it reaches the end, it will swell up and destroy our planet – but data from the craft suggest that won’t happen for at least another five billion years.
WHAT IS THE SOLAR CYCLE?
The sun is a huge ball of electrically charged hot gas that moves and generates a powerful magnetic field.
This magnetic field goes through a cycle called the solar cycle.
About every 11 years, the sun’s magnetic field flips completely, meaning the sun’s north and south poles swap places.
The solar cycle affects activity on the sun’s surface, such as sunspots caused by the sun’s magnetic fields.
Every 11 years, the sun’s magnetic field flips, meaning the sun’s north and south poles swap places. The solar cycle influences activity on the sun’s surface, increasing the number of sunspots during stronger (2001) phases than weaker (1996/2006) phases
One way to track the solar cycle is to count the number of sunspots.
The beginning of a solar cycle is a solar minimum, or when the sun has the fewest sunspots. Over time, solar activity — and the number of sunspots — increases.
The center of the solar cycle is solar maximum, or when the sun has the most sunspots.
As the cycle ends, it fades back to solar minimum and a new cycle begins.
Giant solar outbursts, such as solar flares and coronal mass ejections, also increase during the solar cycle.
These eruptions send powerful bursts of energy and material into space that could impact Earth.
For example, eruptions can cause lights in the sky called aurora or affect radio communications and power grids on Earth.