Sun Erupts with Largest Solar Flare of the Cycle

by Nancy Atkinson on August 9, 2011

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Early Tuesday morning (August 9, 2011,) the Sun erupted with the largest solar flare of Cycle 24, registering as an X7-class flare. This flare had an X-ray magnitude of X6.9, meaning it was more than 3 times larger than the previous largest flare of this solar cycle – the X2.2 that occurred on Feb 15, 2011, NASA said. The source was Sunspot 1263 which is nearing the western limb of the Sun, and because of its location, scientists do not anticipate that this explosion will hit Earth directly. Therefore, the impact on communications and electric grids will likely (and luckily) be minimal.

A solar flare is an explosion on the Sun that happens when energy stored in twisted magnetic fields –usually above sunspots — is suddenly released. Flares produce a burst of radiation across the electromagnetic spectrum, from radio waves to x-rays and gamma-rays.

Solar flares are classified according to their x-ray brightness, and there are 3 categories: X-class flares are big and are major events that can trigger planet-wide radio blackouts and long-lasting radiation storms. M-class flares are medium-sized; they can cause brief radio blackouts that affect Earth’s polar regions. Minor radiation storms sometimes follow an M-class flare. Compared to X- and M-class events, C-class flares are small with little noticeable impact on Earth.

You can see more about the size of solar flares here.

See more about today’s flare from Solar Watch and the Solar Dynamics Observatory

For more information see SpaceWeather.com and The Solar Dynamics Observatory website.

You can follow Universe Today senior editor Nancy Atkinson on Twitter: @Nancy_A. Follow Universe Today for the latest space and astronomy news on Twitter @universetoday and on Facebook.

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also works with Astronomy Cast, and is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

WaxyMary August 10, 2011 at 12:49 AM

I think we’re going to need a bigger boat. That one was impressive.

The ripple seen in the coronal sheath by SDO after the flash seems to have a speed of propagation on the order of that approaching very high, but short of, sub light speed.

This does seem that portion of the captive electron mass retained by the magnetic flux did not break but seemed like it was being jammed to the side in a vast distortion. The coronal mass spread to the sides seems larger than that which was ejected, in area if not in cubic.

Mary

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