It was powerful enough to disrupt GPS and radio communications!
On Sunday (April 17), NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, which monitors the sun constantly, captured a spectacular image of the sun emitting a mid-level solar flare.
Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation, but don’t worry — this radiation is not capable of passing through Earth’s atmosphere to cause any physical harm to humans on the ground. However, if the burst is strong enough, it can disrupt the layer in the atmosphere where GPS and communication signals travel.
According to NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center, "moderate radio blackouts were observed" during the peak of the flare, which occurred at 8:29 PM EDT on April 17. But these disruptions have since subsided because radio blackouts only last for the duration of the flare.
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This particular solar flare was classified as an M6.7 class flare. An M-class flare is about a tenth of the size of the most intense flares, known as X-class flares, and the number provides information about its strength. For example, an M2 is twice as intense as an M1, and an M3 is three times as powerful.
The flare originated from an area currently experiencing complex magnetic activity — known as the active region and labeled Active Region 2529 — which displayed a large dark spot, or sunspot, over the past several days.
The sunspot slowly changed its shape and size as it made its way across the sun’s surface over the past week and a half, and for much of that time, it was big enough to be visible from the ground without magnification. In fact, as of April 18, it was large enough that almost five Earths could fit inside.
Since yesterday (April 20), the sunspot has rotated out of view.
Scientists study sunspots in order to better understand what causes some to occasionally erupt with solar flares, while others remain relatively calm.
Check out this imagery of the solar flare captured by NASA:
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