Sun releases a powerful X-class solar flare, with more expectations
An intense solar flare blasted off the surface of the sun Thursday evening from a complex sunspot that could, quite literally, flare up again very soon.
The charged particle explosion was recorded as an X1.2 class eruption. X flares are the strongest category of flares and can cause geomagnetic storms affecting the Earth’s magnetic field with the potential to damage satellites, communications equipment and even the power grid.
An X1 flare like this, however, is at the bottom of the X scale. So no immediate damage from the explosion itself has been reported at this time, except for a shortwave radio blackout over parts of Australia and the South Pacific. This blackout was the result of the energetic burst from the solar flare traveling at the speed of light towards our planet, reaching Earth in just eight minutes. However, it was brief.
However, scientists believe there is surely more to this sunspot’s arsenal.
“Given the size and apparent complexity of this large active region, there is a good chance that explosions will continue for days to come,” writes former NASA astronomer Tony Phillips on Spaceweather.com.
Powerful eruptions are often accompanied by coronal mass ejections (CMEs) of hot plasma that can be hurled toward Earth but at much slower speeds, taking a day or more to make the trip.
When strong CMEs directly impact the Earth, the result can be bright auroral displays at higher latitudes, but also the aforementioned infrastructure damage. So far, there is no report of a CME accompanying Thursday’s eruption.
That’s a welcome surprise, as the massive and energetically complex sunspot that produced it spent the first part of this week throwing powerful flares and CMEs across the sun. Now this sunspot, which is cataloged as AR3182, is orbiting in our direct line of sight from Earth, which means that future CMEs over the next few days could be aimed directly at us.
NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center predicts a 10% chance of more X flares over the weekend.