April 13th, 2013 by James Ayre
The biggest solar flare of the year just erupted from the Sun on Thursday, April 11, right at 3:16 AM EDT (0716 GMT). The powerful solar eruption was also accompanied by a large coronal mass ejection (CME), and caused a temporary radio blackout on the Earth, according to NASA officials.
The solar flare registered as a M6.5-class flare, which means a somewhat mid-level flare, less powerful than the occasionally seen X-class flares.
“This is the strongest flare seen so far in 2013,” NASA spokeswoman Karen Fox stated. “Increased numbers of flares are quite common at the moment, since the sun’s normal 11-year cycle is ramping up toward solar maximum, which is expected in late 2013.”
Video and images of the solar flare were captured by NASA’s sun-watching Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). The SDO spacecraft is one of the few direct and detailed ways that we currently have to observe the Sun and monitor space weather.
“Today’s M-class solar flare was about 10 times weaker than X-class flares, which are the strongest flares the sun can unleash. M-class solar flares are the weakest solar events that can still trigger space weather effects near Earth, such as communications interruptions or spectacular northern lights displays. The solar flare triggered a short-lived radio communications blackout on Earth that registered as an R2 event (on a scale of R1 to R5),” Space.com stated in its coverage.
“When aimed directly at Earth, major solar flares and coronal mass ejections can pose a threat to astronauts and satellites in orbit. They can interfere with GPS navigation and communications satellite signals in space, as well as impair power systems infrastructure on Earth.”
NASA is continuing to track the CME in order to see if it is likely to cause any further radio blackouts in the coming days.
“Humans have tracked this solar cycle continuously since it was discovered, and it is normal for there to be many flares a day during the sun’s peak activity,” Fox said.
Solar activity is expected to significantly pick up by the end of the year, likely leading to the regular release of solar flares far stronger than this recent one.
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