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Sun Releases Most Powerful Solar Flare of the Year

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Nov 07, 2013 10:42 AM EST
X-class solar flare X3.3 nov. 5 2013
New, quantifiable measurements of space radiation taken by scientists at University of New Hampshire will play a crucial role in the development of future techniques to shield astronauts and sensitive equipment from cosmic radiation, according to the researchers behind the study. NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observer captured this image of an X3.3-class solar flare that peaked at 5:12 p.m. EST on Nov. 5, 2013. This image shows light blended from the 131 and 193 wavelengths. (Photo : NASA/SDO)

The Sun fired off an X3.3-grade solar flare Tuesday evening, the most powerful flare of the year. Experts do not anticipate any adverse effects on Earth from the powerful solar flare, but it did cause a wide-area blackout of high frequency signals for about an hour, according to the National Weather Service Space Weather Prediction Center.

The space weather center said the Sun displayed a high level of activity leading up to the X-class flare, which appeared to be the culmination of the solar activity. The flare peaked at 5:12 p.m. EST on Nov. 5, 2013, NASA reported.

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A rare phenomenon known as a "magnetic crochet" was set off by the solar flare, according to SpaceWeather.com, which reports the phenomenon as a disturbance in Earth's magnetic field caused by electrical currents flowing as high as 100km overhead. Magnetic crochets occur while the flare is in progress, as opposed to other observable space weather effects like those from coronal mass ejections (CMEs), which are detected on Earth days after the event.

Solar activity is measured in 11-year activity cycles. The Sun entered its solar maximum this summer. Prior to Tuesday's powerful flare, the strongest flare this year, an X3.2, happened in May during a notably hyperactive week of solar activity, which saw our star unfurl three major flares in one day.

As summer peaked, however, solar activity seemed to lull. But in autumn there was a surge in solar activity, most notably in the last week of October,when the Sun unleashed 28 solar flares, including three X-class flares.

There are several classes of solar flares, but M-class and X-class are most noteworthy because they can cause geomagnetic storms on Earth. M-class flares are the weakest type of solar flare that can cause some space weather effects near Earth, while X-class flares are the most powerful class of solar flare.

The numbers following the flare's letter class provide more information about the flare's strength. An X2 flare, for instance, is twice as strong as an X1.

The first solar flare of the current solar cycle occurred in February 2011. The strongest flare of the current cycle measured X6.9 on Aug. 9, 2011.

On Thursday, Nov. 7, NOAA forecasters estimate there is a 10 percent chance of another X-class fare and a 45 percent chance of an M-class flare, according to SpaceWeather.com.

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