The largest solar flare of 2014 was unleashed by the Sun late yesterday evening. The huge X Class solar flare erupted from an active sunspot known as AR1990, according to NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory. The agency's spacecraft recorder captured the gigantic bursts of plasma from the coronal mass ejection – CME. X Class solar flares are the strongest type of solar storms.
The massive solar flare was not Earth-directed, so the power grid was not in jeopardy – this time. According to scientists at SpaceWeather, sunspot AR1990 (formerly referred to as AR1967) is currently pointed away from Earth on the southeastern "limb" of the Sun.
SpaceWeather astronomer Tony Phillips had this to say about the X Class solar flare:
"Long-lived sunspot AR1967 returned to the Earthside of the sun on February 25 and promptly erupted, producing an X4.9-class solar flare. This is the strongest flare of the year so far and one of the strongest of the current solar cycle."The Earth could still be in danger and in the path of a powerful CME, according to NOAA. The active region of the Sun where the solar flare erupted is set to "rotate more fully into view of Earth" over the next week.
If the 4.9 X Class solar flare had been directed towards Earth, the CME could have likely prompted a significant geomagnetic storm. During such a storm charged particles smash against the Earth's magnetic field. The Sun is currently in the most active phase of its 11-year solar cycle.
An increase in solar flares near the peak of the 11-year Sun cycle shouldn't but thought of as unusual, but since this solar maximum has been "noticeably mellow" scientists are taking note of the uptick in activity. The Sun remained unusually quiet over the summer months, prompting surprise among NOAA and NASA weather experts when multiple M-class and X-class solar flares began occurring in October.
Scientists have only been able to view, track, and understand solar flares for about the last 20 years. The most powerful known earth-directed solar flare occurred during 1859 and is known as the Carrington Event. Telegraph lines, the most advanced technology at the time, burst into flames. If such a powerful event occurred today, life as we know it in America would cease for quite a long time.
The United States does not manufacture the transformers necessary to bring the power grid back online. The Lights Out Saga movie trilogy, produced by Travis Fox, very accurately details how quickly the country would falter and how many lives would be lost, after such a catastrophic natural disaster. National Geographic's American Blackout also examined an America without electricity.In the film and prospective TV series, The Carrington Event, director/producer Rob Underhill paints a bleak picture of civilization turned barbarism just weeks after the short-out of the American electric grid. The grid failure is caused by a solar super storm that envelopes the planet. Underhill had this to say about the dangers posed by solar flares:
"With the incredible increase of frequency of storms as well as the growing intensity, it is merely a matter of time until a storm the size of the historic Carrington Event of 1859 happens in modern time. So, when it does, we best be ready, or else I don't have a show to put on the air… there will be no TV, no internet, not even mainstream radio to carry my show! It is heartening that more seriousness is being given this real threat. For one, I have hopes more solid good and planning will come out of the power grid drill."Do you think the power grid is vulnerable to solar flares?