NASA released some rather amazing footage today of a solar flare, described as “graceful”, erupting from the surface of the sun.
The mid-level solar flare was captured on video on April 2nd by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), a mission launched on February 11, 2010, the purpose of which is to observe the Sun for five years.
Via PBS, the Observatory explains the solar flare:
Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation. Harmful radiation from a flare cannot pass through Earth’s atmosphere to physically affect humans on the ground, however — when intense enough — they can disturb the atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communications signals travel.
To see how this event may impact Earth, please visit NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center at http://spaceweather.gov, the U.S. government’s official source for space weather forecasts, alerts, watches and warnings.
This flare is classified as an M6.5 flare. M-class flares are ten times less powerful than the most intense flares, which are labeled X-class. The number after the M provides more information about its strength. An M2 is twice as intense as an M1, an M3 is three times as intense.
There have been two reported larger solar flares so far this year. One, which occurred March 13th, was classified at a strength of M9.3, almost strong enough to qualify as an X-class. The other solar flare was classified as an X4.9 and occurred on the 24th of February. In the case of the x.49, the solar flare was not “Earth-directed”. Had it been, we could have experienced an intense geomagnetic storm.
The harmful radiation present in solar flares in unable to pass through the Earth’s atmosphere to cause any harm to living organisms. However, intense flares can still disrupt GPS and other communication signals.
According to the West Australian, the solar flare captured on video by the SDO knocked out signals from Russian global positioning satellites, disrupting GPS systems used by miners in the area.
Most mine vehicles – including haul trucks, diggers, drill rigs and light vehicles – are fitted with GPS systems. It is used to track vehicles on big mine sites for safety reasons and big mining companies are becoming increasingly reliant on the technology as they move to more automated workplaces.
GPS systems are used for fleet monitoring and assignment, for planning and placement of drill and blast operations and for managing processing stockpiles.
The largest solar flare on record so far is known as the Solar Storm of 1859, or the “Carrington Event”, so named because the resulting geomagnetic storm was observed and recorded by Richard C. Carrington. The flare traveled to earth in 17.6 hours, a trip that would typically take three to four days, and caused aurorae so bright that Rocky Mountain gold miners awoke from the glow and started making breakfast because they thought it was morning.