Solar flares – giant explosions on the surface of the sun

Solar flares occur when the sun’s magnetic field – which creates the dark sunspots on the star’s surface – twists up and reconnects, blasting energy outward and super-heating the solar surface.

The most powerful solar flare ever detected occurred in 2003. It overloaded all of NASA’s solar measurement sensors, which cut out after measuring a flare of X28.

X-class solar flares – a billion hydrogen bombs

Space weather scientists classify flares based on their intensity, with X-class flares being the most powerful. These explosions can release as much energy as a billion hydrogen bombs.

On 6 September, an X-class solar flare blasted from a large sunspot on the sun’s surface. That flare was the strongest since 2015, at X2.2, but it was dwarfed just three hours later, by an X9.3 flare, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC). The last X9 flare occurred in 2006  (coming in at X9.0).

X-class solar flares are the largest explosions in the solar system often accompanied by twisting ropes of plasma ten times the size of Earth that curl up off the sun’s surface.

 

Solar flare disruptions on Earth

According to SWPC, the flares resulted in radio blackouts: high-frequency radio experienced a “wide area of blackouts, loss of contact for up to an hour over the sunlit side of Earth,” and GPS communications were degraded for about an hour.

Coronal mass ejection

During large solar flares, the sun can also sling a cloud of energetic plasma from its body, an event called a coronal mass ejection (CME). CMEs are huge explosions of magnetic field and plasma from the Sun’s corona. When CMEs impact the Earth’s magnetosphere, they are responsible for geomagnetic storms and enhanced aurora activity.

 

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