Big solar flares yesterday

June 11, 2014 • 10:14 am

If you’re an astronomy buff, you’ll already know that we had three big solar flares in the last two days. According to NASA, they were classified in Class X, the biggest ones of all. We happen to be in a peak year of an apparent 11-year cycle for these eruptions.

First have a look:

What is a solar flare? A separate NASA page tells us (my emphasis):

A flare is defined as a sudden, rapid, and intense variation in brightness. A solar flare occurs when magnetic energy that has built up in the solar atmosphere is suddenly released. Radiation is emitted across virtually the entire electromagnetic spectrum, from radio waves at the longwavelength end, through optical emission to x-rays and gamma rays at the short wavelength end. The amount of energy released is the equivalent of millions of 100-megaton hydrogen bombs exploding at the same time! The first solar flare recorded in astronomical literature was on September 1, 1859. Two scientists, Richard C. Carrington and Richard Hodgson, were independently observing sunspots at the time, when they viewed a large flare in white light.

As the magnetic energy is being released, particles, including electrons, protons, and heavy nuclei, are heated and accelerated in the solar atmosphere. The energy released during a flare is typically on the order of 1027 ergs per second. Large flares can emit up to 1032 ergs of energy. This energy is ten million times greater than the energy released from a volcanic explosion. On the other hand, it is less than one-tenth of the total energy emitted by the Sun every second.

There are typically three stages to a solar flare. First is the precursor stage, where the release of magnetic energy is triggered. Soft x-ray emission is detected in this stage. In the second or impulsive stage, protons and electrons are accelerated to energies exceeding 1 MeV. During the impulsive stage, radio waves, hard x-rays, and gamma rays are emitted. The gradual build up and decay of soft x-rays can be detected in the third, decaystage. The duration of these stages can be as short as a few seconds or as long as an hour.

Two photos from NASA:

june_10_2014_x2pt2_flare_crop_0
A solar flare bursts off the left limb of the sun in this image captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory on June 10, 2014, at 7:41 a.m. EDT. This is classified as an X2.2 flare, shown in a blend of two wavelengths of light: 171 and 131 angstroms, colorized in gold and red, respectively. Image Credit: NASA/SDO/Goddard/Wiessinger
The second X-class flare of June 10, 2014, appears as a bright flash on the left side of this image from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. This image shows light in the 193-angstrom wavelength, which is typically colorized in yellow. It was captured at 8:55 a.m EDT, just after the flare peaked. Image Credit: NASA/SDO
The second X-class flare of June 10, 2014, appears as a bright flash on the left side of this image from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. This image shows light in the 193-angstrom wavelength, which is typically colorized in yellow. It was captured at 8:55 a.m EDT, just after the flare peaked. Image Credit: NASA/SDO

And more information about yesterday’s events:

On June 11, 2014, the sun erupted with its third X-class flare in two days. The flare was classified as an X1.0 and it peaked at 5:06 a.m. EDT.  Images of the flare were captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. All three flares originated from an active region on the sun that recently rotated into view over the left limb of the sun.

To see how this event may affect 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 X2.2 flare. X-class denotes the most intense flares, while the number provides more information about its strength. An X2 is twice as intense as an X1, an X3 is three times as intense, etc.

h/t: Grania

17 thoughts on “Big solar flares yesterday

    1. They do when the flare is pointed at the Earth, causing strong magnetic disturbances in the magnetosphere that can shut down long-distance high-voltage lines, like you have in Canada. They can also knock out satellites, and shut down short-wave communication, which was a problem 50 years ago for aircraft and ships.

    2. I was trying to describe the state of the rig’s communications bandwidth a couple of days ago, and commented that it was equivalent to a v.32 modem, then did a few little whistles and ended with a “NO CARRIER”
      My audience simply did not understand the joke.
      I’ll get my zimmer frame (errr, EN_US = stroller?) and park it on your lawn.

  1. Somebody religious, somewhere on earth, is bound to hate the video & photo’s of this event because god reverence scripture science blasphemy education blah blah blah. Boko Haram, for instance. Or the USA Republican Party. Cut the NASA budget, now! Better yet, privatize it. Put all science budget money in the Defense Department. And end business regulations and taxes.

    1. I guess neither of us got the memo from Fox. See, a virulently racist religious fanatic who hates the US Government and has a stock-pile of weapons wearing a Keffiyeh is a terrorist, but a virulently racist religious fanatic who hates the US Government and has a stock-pile of weapons wearing a cowboy hat is an American patriot. Just watch Megyn Kelly, she’ll tell you all about it.

  2. In 1859, a huge solar storm known as the Carrington event occurred. It interfered with telegraph communications and some operators were injured by electric shocks.
    The effect of a similar event today is beyond imagining.

    1. Actually the effects are considered at great length, both economically and in terms of national and international security. So the effects are at least, in theory, attempted to be quantified…which is a good thing to be prepared in this manner, at least with knowledge based on well thought out estimates.

    2. To add to what Kevin says ; the entire point of the “space weather” website is to distribute information about such effects, and to e3ncourage the development of resilience around such problems.
      The widening replacement of major parts of the backbone of the internet with optical fibres is reducing the overall sensitivity of the culture to such events. They still aren’t going to do nice things for power distribution, but that it also to a degree a manageable problem.

  3. I have been meaning to take out my telescope and solar filter and check on the sunspots. With this filter the sun looks like a big orange, textured sphere with black sunspots.
    Wonder what I would see if there was a solar flare. Would I see a big dark sunspot, or a brighter area?

    1. With this filter the sun looks like a big orange, textured sphere with black sunspots.

      Aluminised Mylar?
      I managed to get some half-way decent photos of the Nov-3 solar eclipse using nothing more sophisticated than a folded-over pair of “stereoscopic spectacles) which I happened to have in the back of my briefcase. Hmmm, I should have my eclipes-chasing kit from the 1999 TSE in one of the photo bags upstairs. …

  4. Is this flare pointed toward earth? I can’t recall but I think no. It would make for some nice aurora.

  5. Is the PERIOD of solar flares 22 years? Every 11 years the magnetic alignment may be termed north-south with in between 11 year marks termed south-north magnetic alignment.

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