Incredible Photos From Recent Solar Flare
This week the sun will be continuing it's flurry of solar activity. Initially fireing this on Thursday, March 8th, the same region on the sun is expected to produce another streak of solar flares.
This past week's flare was categorized as a M6.3-class flare, which is a mid-range size according to the Space Weather Prediction Center of the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.) Space weather scientists use five categories — A, B, C, M and X — to rank solar flares based on their strength and severity. A-class flares are the weakest types of sun storms, while X-class eruptions are the most powerful.
The M-class solar flare exploded from the same sunspot region, called AR1429, which has been particularly active all week. This dynamic region has already unleashed three strong X-class solar flares. On Tuesday (March 6), two powerful X-class eruptions triggered the strongest solar storm in eight years, Bob Rutledge, head of NOAA's Space Weather Forecast Office, told reporters today (March 9).
"When you take overall intensity and length — how long it persisted — we're confident in saying by some measures, it was the strongest storm we've seen since November 2004," Rutledge said. "That doesn't mean that between November 2004 and today we haven't had brief periods that were more intense. If you look at the storm overall for length and strength, it was the strongest storm since November 2004."
These solar storms have the potential to increase the intersity of the aurora and autralis borealis (northern and southern lights) making them visible even further from the polar regions than normal. Yesterday, skywatchers reported seeing auroras from states such as Wisconsin, Michigan and Washington, Rutledge said.
With this sunspot region now facing Earth, at the central meridian of the solar disk, strong solar eruptions have the potential to wreak havoc on the planet. Big coronal mass ejections that hit Earth head-on can potentially knock out power grids and disrupt other electronics infrastructure. Strong solar storms can also disrupt satellites in space and pose radiation risks for astronauts aboard the International Space Station.
This week's solar storm increased levels of solar radiation and caused geomagnetic storms on Earth, but the effects were milder than expected. As a precaution, commercial airliners re-routed flights over Earth's polar caps, but no other major disruptions were reported, Rutledge said.
But without any additional eruptions from the sun, and as this week's solar storm begins to taper off, the supercharged aurora displays will begin to decrease around the globe, he added.
The sun appears to be coming out of an extended lull in activity in its 11-year cycle. The current cycle is known as Solar Cycle 24 and solar activity is expected to ramp up toward its peak in 2013, NASA officials have said
More details on this solar activity can be found in an indepth interview Bob Rutledge did with Fox News.