Blast! Sun Pops Off A Moderate Solar Flare. Could Others Follow Soon?

by Elizabeth Howell on July 10, 2014

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With a watchful NASA spacecraft capturing its moves, the Sun sent off a “mid-level” solar flare on Tuesday (July 8) that you can watch (over and over again) in the video above. The Solar Dynamics Observatory caught the explosion around 12:20 p.m. EDT (4:20 p.m. UTC), which led into a coronal mass ejection that sent a surge of solar material into space.

Solar flares can be disruptive to Earth communications and also cause auroras in the atmosphere. In this case, the M6 solar flare created “short-lived impacts to high frequency radio communications on the sunlit side of Earth … as a result,” wrote the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in a forecast July 8.

In this case, however, the coronal mass ejection (seen by the Solar Dynamics Observatory) is not expected to hit Earth. But with the Sun around its maximum of solar activity in the 11-year cycle, other eruptions could head into space in the coming days. M is considered a moderate flare and X the strongest kind.

“Solar activity is low, but the quiet is unlikely to persist,” wrote SpaceWeather.com in an update published today (July 10). “There are three sunspots with unstable magnetic fields capable of strong eruptions: AR2108, AR2109, AR2113. NOAA forecasters estimate a 75% chance of M-flares and 15% chance of X-flares on July 10th.”

This flare caused a surge in shortwave activity that you can hear in this audio file, recorded by New Mexico amateur astronomer Thomas Ashcraft. “Radio bursts such as these are sparked by shock waves moving through the sun’s atmosphere,” SpaceWeather added. “Set in motion by flares, these shock waves excite plasma instabilitties that emit static-y radio waves.”

A moderate solar flare erupts on the sun July 8, 2014 in this image from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory. The image uses a wavelength of light (131 Angstroms) that emphasizes the hot material of the sun. Credit: NASA/SDO

A moderate solar flare erupts on the sun July 8, 2014 in this image from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. The image uses a wavelength of light (131 Angstroms) that emphasizes the hot material of the sun. Credit: NASA/SDO

About 

Elizabeth Howell is the senior writer at Universe Today. She also works for Space.com, Space Exploration Network, the NASA Lunar Science Institute, NASA Astrobiology Magazine and LiveScience, among others. Career highlights include watching three shuttle launches, and going on a two-week simulated Mars expedition in rural Utah. You can follow her on Twitter @howellspace or contact her at her website.

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