Two massive solar flares erupted from the surface of the sun early this morning with the potential to disturb radio transmission and damage the power grid on Earth. Both are classified by solar experts as X-class flares, considered the most powerful sun-storm category.
Just after 5 a.m. EDT, the first flare, an X2, discharged from the sun’s surface. Three hours later, a more powerful X9 was sent hurling into space. The last time an X9 struck the Earth was nearly 10 years ago, causing widespread radio blackouts.
According to a report from Space.com, solar flares are created as the sun’s magnetic field curls and reconnects to itself. The result is superheating of the sun’s surface coupled with a blast of energy that triggers radiation storms in the Earth’s atmosphere.
On Monday, an M-class solar flare, much smaller than an X-class, was ejected from the same area of the sun. This emission was accompanied by a coronal mass ejection (CME). A CME is produced when extremely hot plasma is ejected from the surface of the sun.
When a strong CME strikes the Earth at 200 miles per second, the radiation reacts with the planet’s magnetic field and causes a brilliant display of moving color across the night sky known as an aurora. The most recent CME is expected to hit the Earth sometime late on September 6. While it is usual for residents of Alaska and Canada to witness auroras, this particular CME event will generate a ghostly aurora as far south as Ohio, North Dakota, and possibly California.
It is still unknown if the early morning X-class solar flares also caused a CME. According to astrophysicist Karl Battams, NASA’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory is not yet sending any data related to the solar flares because of its current position in space.
Irritatingly, we're out of contact with SOHO until 1830UT so it'll be a while before we get a visual on any CME resulting from this beastie pic.twitter.com/fJ0P9j2j5n— Karl Battams (@SungrazerComets) September 6, 2017
If any CMEs produced by the X-class are headed toward Earth, sky watchers can expect more intense auroras in the next few days. However, they could also cause significant damage to orbiting satellites and power systems on the planet.
While many observers are highly anticipating a chance to see an aurora tonight, they may be faced with disappointment. The bright light of tonight’s full moon may outshine the glow of the aurora, leaving many sky gazers unable to see the blue, green, and red colors overhead.
The three powerful flares sent out from the sun over the last couple days will likely cause a spectacular light show for many not used to seeing such an event. They will also give solar astronomers more data and information to help them better understand the star that provides heat and energy to life on Earth.
[Featured Image by Zakharchuk/Shutterstock]