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Sun unleashes its most powerful solar flare of the year


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Sun unleashes its most powerful solar flare of the year

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- just days after it sent 28 flares erupting through space in a week
The flare peaked at 10:12pm GMT on Tuesday and was classified an X3.3
X-class solar flares can pose a threat to satellites and astronauts in orbit
This particular flare is not a major concern for Earth, officials have said
It follows over two dozen solar flares that have occurred since October 21

The sun fired off its strongest solar flare of the year this week causing a wide-area blackout of high frequency signal.

The powerful flare peaked at 10:12pm GMT on Tuesday and was classified an X3.3, falling into the category of the most intense solar explosions.

X-class solar flares, when aimed directly at Earth, can pose a threat to satellites and astronauts in orbit.

Despite disruption to shortwave radio communication, this particular flare is not a major concern for Earth, space officials have said.

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Nasa's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured this image of an X3.3-class solar flare above that peaked at 5:12 pm EST (10:12 pm GMT) on Tuesday. The long streak of light is likely due to solar protons saturating the imager...

The above view of the flare comes from Nasa’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), and it shows the sun in extreme ultraviolet light.

The unusual colour is due to the blending of false colours that are assigned to each wavelength by solar physicists to distinguish the different bands.


A solar flare is a burst of light and radiation from the sun’s magnetic atmosphere.

The energy travels at the speed of light to reach Earth just eight minutes after the flare; at Earth, a part of the atmosphere called the ionosphere absorbs it.

Normally, that’s the end of the story, but this flare was unusual. It had a very quick rise and a very quick decay, says Alex Young, associate director for science in the heliophysics division of the Goddard Space Flight Center.

The burst of energy triggered electric currents in the ionosphere, which in turn generated a magnetic field.

All electric currents generate magnetic fields, and the fast surge caused by the flare creates a magnetic field strong enough to be measured from the ground.

Since solar flares heat and distort the ionosphere, they can interfere with radio communication.

The NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center warned of a potential blackout of shortwave radio communication for about an hour after the November 5 flare.

This type of communication is often used for long-range aviation, amateur radio, and emergency communication. Beyond radio interference, the flare did not affect Earth.

Last week more than two dozen solar flares erupted from the sun, catapulting radiation towards the Earth that could potentially play havoc with global communications.

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued four radio blackout warnings in two days after solar weather suddenly turned turbulent.

Radiation from flares cannot penetrate Earth's atmosphere to harm life on the ground, but when intense enough it can disturb the atmosphere in the ionosphere, where GPS and radio signals travel.

Since October 23 the sun has let loose with 24 medium-strength M-class solar flares, and four X-class flares - the most powerful kind.

With our local star heading towards the peak of its 11-year cycle, a period known as the solar maximum, this shouldn't be unusual.

But lead up to the solar max has been unusually subdued this year.

Humans have tracked the solar cycle continuously since it was discovered in 1843, and it is normal for there to be many flares a day during the sun's peak activity.

Holly Gilbert, a solar physicist at the Goddard Space Flight Center, told the Los Angeles Times: 'It hadn't been active in months, so it's like it finally woke up.

'For those of us who study the dynamics of the sun, it is exciting because it gives us more events to study.'

Solar flares happen when energy stored in magnetic fields twisted across the surface of the sun is suddenly released.

'You get a tangled bunch of magnetic fields, and they get too tangled and too stressed, they end up erupting,' added Dr Gilbert.

The recent solar flare activity has also been accompanied by several coronal mass ejections (CMEs), say Nasa officials.

There are another kind of solar phenomenon that send billions of tons of particles into space that can reach Earth one to three days later.

Like the radiation from solar flares, these particles cannot travel through the atmosphere to harm humans on Earth; but they can affect electronic systems in satellites and on the ground.

CMEs can cause a space weather phenomenon called a geomagnetic storm, which occurs when they funnel energy into Earth's magnetic envelope, the magnetosphere, for an extended period of time.

The CME's magnetic fields peel back the outermost layers of Earth's fields changing their very shape, distortions which can can degrade communication signals and cause unexpected surges in power grids.

They also can cause aurora. Storms are rare during solar minimum, but as the sun nears solar maximum, large storms occur several times per year.

HOW DO CORONAL MASS EJECTIONS IMPACT EARTH?

The eruption that produced this year's strongest solar flare also sent out a coronal mass ejection (CME).

CMEs are a mass of charged particles and magnetic field energy that bursts from the sun like a volcanic eruption.

Material from a coronal mass ejection takes two to three days to reach Earth, but in this case, the coronal mass ejection is going to miss our planet.

Coronal mass ejections interact with Earth’s magnetic field to generate auroras and magnetic storms.

The CME's magnetic fields peel back the outermost layers of Earth's fields changing their very shape, distortions which can can degrade communication signals and cause unexpected surges in power grids.

They also can cause aurora. Storms are rare during solar minimum, but as the sun nears solar maximum, large storms occur several times per year.

_http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2491191/Sun-unleashes-powerful-solar-flare-year--just-days-sent-28-flares-erupting-space-week.html
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