A space weather physicist tweeted that the Sun just let out a huge solar flare, which could cause radio blackouts in many parts of the world.
Now that the Sun is in an active part of its 11-year cycle, more things like this are likely to happen. Earlier this week, astronomers were keeping an eye on sunspot AR3038 to see if it was going to do anything. But AR3058 is a new region that erupted early and has a chance of producing an X-class flare.
How bad can flares from the sun get?
Solar flares are powerful, localized explosions of electromagnetic energy on the sun’s surface. Solar flares are put into classes A, B, C, M, and X based on how strong they are. Class A flares are the weakest, while class X flares are the strongest.
When these flares go off, they release intense bursts of energy and radiation that would be dangerous for people on Earth if we didn’t have an atmosphere to protect us. But when the flare interacts with the atmosphere, it sends a lot of energy into the atmosphere. This ionizes the upper layers of the atmosphere, which are used for radio communication, and causes the signal to go out.
The recent flare is headed toward Earth and is expected to cause major GPS blackouts, which could make it hard for small planes and ships to get where they need to go. This solar flare, which has a 10% chance of being an X-class solar event, will cause some problems for Ham radio or amateur radio operators. Astronomers aren’t sure yet if the flare was also accompanied by a coronal mass ejection (CME), which could cause a geomagnetic storm in a couple of days.
The Day of the Bastille
The timing of the solar flare makes me think of another one that happened on July 14, 2000. It was called the Bastille Day event because it happened on July 14, which is France’s national day.
A report from Spaceweatherarchive.com said that the CME that came with this solar flare was received a day later. It caused auroras to flash in the night sky in the U.S., and in some places, it looked like the sky was on fire. By the time the geomagnetic storm was over, people in Texas, Florida, and Mexico had seen the northern and southern lights.
Astronomers are also interested in the event because it was the first big thing to happen after the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) was launched. This gave researchers a close-up look at what really happens on the surface of the sun during a solar flare.
Astronomers still study the event, and they think it had 1033 ergs of magnetic energy, which is the same as a thousand billion atomic bombs used in World War II.
Even though the Voyager spacecraft were moving away from the Sun, they could still see the effects of the flares.
Now that the Sun is slowly getting closer to the peak of its cycle, could another Bastille Day event happen? Just wait and see.