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“NASA Captures Images of Largest Solar Flare in Years, Temporarily Disrupting Radio Communications on Earth”

NASA Captures Images of Largest Solar Flare in Years, Temporarily Disrupting Radio Communications on Earth

In a remarkable display of celestial power, NASA has captured images of the largest and most intense solar flare seen in years. This extraordinary event was one of three powerful eruptions from the sun that occurred within a span of just 24 hours, temporarily knocking out shortwave radio communications on Earth. The magnitude of these flares is truly awe-inspiring, with the last and most explosive flare clocking in at a rating of X6.37 in flare intensity, according to NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center.

Solar flares, much like hurricanes and earthquakes, are rated based on their intensity. The “X” designation denotes the most intense flares, and the higher the number, the more powerful the eruption from the sun’s surface. Dr. Ryan French, a solar astrophysicist at the National Science Foundation’s National Solar Observatory in New Mexico, explains that this recent X6.3 burst of radiation was not only the largest in the current solar cycle but also the largest since 2017. He further adds that we are entering an increased period of solar activity, indicating that we can expect more captivating displays from our nearest star.

The sun operates on an 11-year solar cycle, characterized by varying levels of flares and sunspots. The current Solar Cycle 25 began in 2020 and is expected to reach peak activity this year. This recent trio of solar flares erupted from the same AR13590 region of the sun, as observed by NASA.

But what exactly are solar flares? These explosive events are the solar system’s largest bursts of radiation resulting from the release of magnetic energy associated with sunspots. They emit X-rays into the solar system and can impact radio propagation in the upper atmosphere. However, it is important to note that harmful radiation from a flare cannot pass through Earth’s atmosphere to physically affect humans on the ground. Instead, these flares can trigger geomagnetic storms on Earth, which lead to the mesmerizing Aurora Borealis or “Northern Lights.”

NASA has released several captivating images of the initial flares, including one that showcases the sheer immensity of a flare compared to our planet. The image serves as a humbling reminder of the vastness and power of the sun.

While solar flares can be awe-inspiring, there is a concern when they produce a “coronal mass ejection” or CME. A CME occurs when there is a large eruption of plasma from the sun and can pose a threat to communication technology on a large scale. Unlike solar flares, CMEs take several days to reach Earth, traveling at a few hundred miles per second.

However, scientists have quickly dispelled any connection between the recent initial solar flares and the cellular network outage that occurred on Thursday, impacting emergency communications in Massachusetts. Many theories circulating on social media had pointed to solar flares as the cause. NOAA clarified that these recent flares were rated R3 on a scale of 1 through 5 in terms of radio blackouts, meaning they were strong enough to disrupt high-frequency or shortwave radio communication for about an hour on the sunlit side of Earth but did not affect cellular networks.

Dr. French emphasizes that the worst impacts of space weather, including potential damage to power grids and technological infrastructure, come from an impact of a CME with Earth, not from the initial flare. He assures that none of the recent flares produced any significant eruption.

It is essential to appreciate the beauty and power of solar flares while understanding their potential effects on our technological systems. As we enter an increased period of solar activity, it is crucial for scientists and researchers to continue monitoring these events and their impact on our planet. The sun, our life-giving star, never ceases to amaze us with its incredible displays of power and beauty.

For more information, contact Marianne Mizera at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @MareMizera.


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