Published: Wed, September 13, 2017
Science | By Hubert Green

NASA captures images of strong solar flares

NASA captures images of strong solar flares

Hot on the heels of the epic American total solar eclipse in August, our sun this month has followed up with what you might call totally cray behavior.

Solar flares occur when the sun's magnetic field is twisted into knots by the movement of superheated plasma around the sun's surface.

The sun has exhibited strangely high levels of solar flare activity over the last few days as it reaches its solar minimum, the period in which the sun's flare activity should be at its lowest. The flare was definitely more powerful than the famous solar flare on March 6, 1989, which was related to the disruption of power grids in Canada. So it's a little surprising that a big sunspot has been shooting off a bunch of flares, including the biggest of the current cycle, for the past week.

NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured the Sunday Sept 10 X-class solar flare.

These are the first X-class flares since May 2015, and the X9.3 ejection was the eighth strongest since records began in 1996. The last X9 flare occurred in 2006 (coming in at X9.0). Solar storms, which can emit billions of megatons of energy, could conceivably cause enormous damage to Earth if our planet's magnetic field interacts heavily with it as they can knock out electrical systems and cause blackouts worldwide.

The team of researchers from the University of Sheffield and Queen's University Belfast caught the X-class flare in action using the Swedish Solar Telescope in La Palma in the Canary Islands, but was harmless to those of us on Earth.

Solar ejections are often associated with flares and sometimes occur shortly after the flare explosion. Sunspot region 2673 has now turned away from Earth, but not before unleashing several X-class flares over the past week, one of which is the largest in over a decade and one of the top 10 since records began. "These observations can tell us how and why these flares formed so we can better predict them in the future".

This flare is the capstone on a series of flares from Active Region 2673, which was identified on August 29 and is now rotating off the front of the sun as part of our star's normal rotation.

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