The strongest solar flare of the summer, so far, erupted from the sun on Friday, July 6. It’s the latest in a run of powerful solar storms this week.
The solar storm happened just after 7 p.m. EDT (2300 GMT) and was observed to be a class X1.1 solar flare. X-class flares are the strongest possible type of solar flare, but 1.1 is quite low on the X-class flare scale, according to the U.S. Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) run by NOAA and the National Weather Service.
The enormous solar flare came from the giant sunspot AR1515, which had already blasted off several other powerful flares earlier this week. Space weather scientists have been closely watching this sunspot, anticipating possible X-class flares.
“And AR1515 did it! X1-class solar flare,” officials with NASA’s sun-watching Solar Dynamics Observatory wrote in a post to @Camilla_SDO, the mission’s mascot Twitter account.
Even though today’s solar flare was the strongest of the summer season, it’s not the strongest of 2012. Back in March, an intense X5.4-class solar flare was blasted from the sun. The flare today was the fifth X-class solar flare of the year.
Earlier in the day, space weather researchers warned of more possible flare-ups from sunspot AR1515. There has been substantial activity on the sun this week, from several sunspots on its Earth-facing side.
“The bulk of activity is coming from Region 1515, a moderate-sized active region with a magnetic field complexity that harbors an isolated chance of X-class flare activity,” SWPC officials said in an alert released before the X1.1-class flare.
“In a new alert announcing the X-class solar flare, SWPC officials said the sun storm could a ‘wide-area blackout’ in the high-frequency radio communications.”
“Scientists measure the strength of solar flares in terms of energy classes, with X-class flares being the strongest sun storms. Moderate flares rank as class M storms and can supercharge Earth’s northern lights displays when aimed at our planet. Class C solar flares round out the top three and have little impact felt on Earth.”
There was a chance that the sunspot “could trigger a massive explosion of solar plasma known as a coronal mass ejection (CME).”
“The region is still in a position to produce an Earth directed coronal mass ejection (CME) but since it is no longer at disk center the chances are less,” Young said. “It should also be noted that even at disk center CMEs don’t always head to Earth.”
“CMEs unleashed from the sun earlier this week were expected to arrive at Earth in the next two days, possibly amping up geomagnetic activity, SWPC officials said.”
“When aimed directly at Earth, X-class solar flares and CMEs can potentially endanger satellites and astronauts in orbit, interfere with GPS and communications signals, and damage power system infrastructure on the ground.”
“The sun is currently in the midst of an active phase of its 11-year solar weather cycle. The current cycle is called Solar Cycle 24 and is expected to peak in 2013.”
“Sunspot group AR1515 is by no means the only active region on the sun today. Nor will it be the last this week, Young added.”
“There is a new active region that is starting to come into view on the lower half of the sun,” Young said. “It should be completely on the Earth facing side of the solar disk in the next day.”
Image Credits: NASA/SDO via @Camilla_SDO