The sun triggered at least eight solar flares on Wednesday (December 14), with more expected after a crackling sunspot appeared on the star’s face.
A die solar flaresa powerful M6, caused a brief radio blackout over the Atlantic Ocean on Wednesday at 09:42 a.m. EST (1442 GMT), according to SpaceWeather.com (opens in a new tab).
Solar flares are bursts of electromagnetic radiation that travel at the speed of light. Those directed to Earth reach our planet within eight minutes of emerging from the sunshine atmosphere.
X flares are the most powerful category of solar flares; the next level is class M, which describes most of the eruptions seen on Wednesday.
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Wednesday’s explosion stunned solar physicists, some of whom commented on the light show on Twitter.
“THREE MORE M LIGHTS: An M6, an M3 and an M2, all from AR3165”, solar physicist keith strong (opens in a new tab) tweeted around 12:30 p.m. EST (5:30 p.m. GMT). “That’s 8 million flares so far today. They seem to be getting bigger, is an X flare in sight? Stay tuned.”
AR3165, which Strong mentioned, is an active region, or sunspot, which has recently emerged on the visible disk of the Sun. Sunspots are darker, cooler areas in the lowest layer of the solar atmosphere, in which the sun’s magnetic field lines are twisted and stretched. Flares shoot out from these regions as the magnetic lines burst, releasing energy.
Solar flares are sometimes accompanied by coronal mass ejections (CME), which are clouds of magnetized plasma that move much slower than flares, taking up to three days to reach Earth.
CMEs tend to further disrupt our technology-dependent world, as they unleash geomagnetic storms in the atmosphere when they interact with it. These storms generate beautiful dawn appears, but may also cause power outages and even knock satellites out of orbit.
So far, there has been no indication from space weather forecasters that any of the recent solar flares are accompanied by a CME that could hit our planet.
Britain’s space weather forecaster office met (opens in a new tab)in its latest report on December 14, predicts low levels of solar activity in the coming days with further M-class flares possible.