The sun unleashed the largest solar flare of the year on Thursday, sparking a temporary radio blackout on Earth.
The solar flare happened at 3:16 am EDT. It registered as a M6.5-class sun storm, which is mid-level and happened at the same time as a coronal mass ejection also emitted from the sun’s burning hot surface.
NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory recorded a stunning video of the solar flare which showed the emission in extreme detail. NASA spokeswoman Karen Fox stated of the largest solar flare of 2013:
“Increased numbers of flares are quite common at the moment, since the sun’s normal 11-year cycle is ramping up toward solar maximum, which is expected in late 2013.”
The sun is currently relatively calm, though it is heading into its peak activity period. Thursday’s M-class flare was about 10 times weaker than an X-class solar flare. The X-class is the strongest the sun can emit. The M-class is also the weakest solar event that still has an effect on Earth.
They typically cause communication interruptions and offer spectacular northern lights displays. NASA officials are still tracking the coronal mass ejection (CME) to see if it will pose any space weather concerns for Earth.
The strongest solar flare of 2013 has been nicknamed the sun’s “spring fling” in preparation for stronger flares later this year. Solar storms are expected to peak this year, at which time the Earth may be subject to X-class flares.
If they are aimed directly at Earth, solar flares and coronal mass ejections can threaten astronauts and satellites in orbit. They have the potential to wreak havoc on GPS navigation and communications signals in space. It is possible for them to also have an effect on power systems on Earth.
Thursday’s solar flare coincided with a brief radio communications blackout that registered as an R2 event on a scale of 1-5. Fox added that the Solar Dynamics Observatory will continue to monitor the sun’s activity. During peak times, it is typical to see the sun emit several solar flares and coronal mass ejections each day.
[Image via NASA/SDO]