Sci-tech

NASA detects strongest solar flare in more than a decade

NASA detects strongest solar flare in more than a decade

The biggest flare ever recorded, in 2003, was so strong it even knocked out NASA's solar measurement equipment.

The current cycle of the sun, which began in December 2008, sees the intensity of the solar activity decrease significantly, opening the way for the "solar minimum".

The path of the solar flare's CME is now being modelled to see whether some of the material could impact our atmosphere. The Solar Dynamic Observatory captured images of both massive solar flares.

As of about 11.30am NZT, data from several satellites showed a sharp increase in activity.

The flares were blasted at 5:10 a.m. EDT (0910 GMT), and at 8:02 a.m. EDT (1202 GMT).

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These solar storms are the result of an accumulation of magnetic energy in some places.

Both of the solar flares erupted from the same active region of the sun, a region NASA calls AR 2673. "A list of the most powerful solar flares recorded since 1976 ranks today's flare at number 14, tied with a similar explosion in 1990", wrote Tony Phillips, who runs spaceweather.com, on Thursday. "We're not having X-flares every day for a week, for instance - the activity is less frequent but no less potentially strong".

The strong geomagnetic storm warning issued by NASA is, as of September 7, still in effect and will continue to be over the next few days. Like Earth, the sun has a magnetic field, sort of like a looped rubber band: at one end is the south pole, the other the north.

The Sun may not be done yet, either - the large group of sunspots, which is visible through a protective solar filter (including those solar eclipse glasses you may still have lying around), has already sent out other, weaker M-class flares.

According to the Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC), the radiations disturbed high-frequency radio communications for one hour on the Earth's side that is facing the sun and low-frequency communications used in navigation. They could still be responsible for additional flares in the coming days.


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