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NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory has captured images of the largest solar flare produced by the sun in four years.
A solar flare is a powerful burst of radiation emitted from a star. Fortunately, these flares from our sun cannot harm us on Earth, but NASA notes that strong flares ‘disturb the atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communications signals travel’. The flares can even impact power grids.
On July 3, NASA spotted the most intense solar flare that marks the beginning of an escalation in activity in Solar Cycle 25. This will likely mean that more flares will appear. The image was captured by the space agency’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, which watches the sun constantly.
Check out the image below:
The solar flare that was captured was an X-class. This is the strongest type of solar flare and can be responsible for geomagnetic storms and radio blackouts.
Scientists were slightly surprised by the size of the flare because of how the activity of the sun normally cycles. The sun has an 11-year cycle of activity that sees it go from a small amount of activity to a peak of sunspots, flares, and storms before returning to less activity. The sun is expected to reach peak activity in 2025, and given that this cycle only began in December 2019, the strong solar flare seems to have come early.
The Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) reported what happened:
New Region 2838 produced an impulsive X1 flare (R3 – Strong Radio Blackout) at 14:29 UTC on 03 July. This sunspot region developed overnight and was also responsible for an M2 flare (R1 – Minor Radio Blackout) at 07:17 UTC on 03 July.
The solar flare, which caused radio disruption on Earth, came from an area that is identified as AR2838. This particular region has recently become active and is rotating with the sun. The active area is now expected to spend the next two weeks moving to the far side of the sun before it once again faces Earth at the end of July. However, there is a chance that the sunspot will dissipate by this time.
In terms of future solar activity, the SWPC expects a significant increase as the cycle peaks. Solar Cycle 24 saw 49 X-class flares and forecasters believe that the next cycle will be at least as active. This means there may be plenty of radio blackouts and hopefully some impressive images in the coming years.
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