sun

Solar Max is Coming. The Sun Just Released Three X-Class Flares

The Sun is increasing its intensity on schedule, continuing its approach to solar maximum. In just over a 24-hour period on May 5 and May 6, 2024, the Sun released three X-class solar flares measuring at X1.3, X1.2, and X4.5. Solar flares can impact radio communications and electric power grids here on Earth, and they also pose a risk to spacecraft and astronauts in space.

NASA released an animation that shows the solar flares blasting off the surface of the rotating Sun, below.

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory captured these images of the solar flares — as seen in the bright flashes in the upper right — on May 5 and May 6, 2024. The image shows a subset of extreme ultraviolet light that highlights the extremely hot material in flares and which is colorized in teal. Credit: NASA/SDO

Predicting when solar maximum will occur is not easy and the timing of it can only be confirmed after it happens. But NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) currently estimates that solar maximum will likely occur between May 2024 and early 2026. The Sun goes through a cycle of high and low activity approximately every 11 years, driven by the Sun’s magnetic field and indicated by the frequency and intensity of sunspots and other activity on the surface. The SWPC has been working hard to have a better handle on predicting solar cycles and activity. Find out more about that here.  

Solar flares are explosions on the Sun that release powerful bursts of energy and radiation coming from the magnetic energy associated with the sunspots. The more sunspots, the greater potential for flares.

Flares are classified based on a system similar to the Richter scale for earthquakes, which divides solar flares according to their strength. X-class is the most intense category of flares, while the smallest ones are A-class, followed by B, C, M and then X. Each letter represents a 10-fold increase in energy output. So an X is ten times an M and 100 times a C. The number that follows the letter provides more information about its strength. The higher the number, the stronger the flare.

Flares are our solar system’s largest explosive events. They are seen as bright areas on the Sun and can last from minutes to hours. We typically see a solar flare by the photons (or light) it releases, occurring in various wavelengths.

Sometimes, but not always, solar flares can be accompanied by a coronal mass ejection (CME), where giant clouds of particles from the Sun are hurled out into space.  If we’re lucky, these charged particles will provide a stunning show of auroras here on Earth while not impacting power grids or satellites.

Thankfully, missions like the Solar Dynamics Observatory, Solar Orbiter, the Parker Solar Probe are providing amazing views and new details about the Sun, helping astronomers to learn more about the dynamic ball of gas that powers our entire Solar System.

Nancy Atkinson

Nancy has been with Universe Today since 2004, and has published over 6,000 articles on space exploration, astronomy, science and technology. She is the author of two books: "Eight Years to the Moon: the History of the Apollo Missions," (2019) which shares the stories of 60 engineers and scientists who worked behind the scenes to make landing on the Moon possible; and "Incredible Stories from Space: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Missions Changing Our View of the Cosmos" (2016) tells the stories of those who work on NASA's robotic missions to explore the Solar System and beyond. Follow Nancy on Twitter at https://twitter.com/Nancy_A and and Instagram at and https://www.instagram.com/nancyatkinson_ut/

Recent Posts

SpaceX Reveals the Beefed-Up Dragon That Will De-Orbit the ISS

The International Space Station (ISS) has been continuously orbiting Earth for more than 25 years…

1 day ago

Gaia Hit by a Micrometeoroid AND Caught in a Solar Storm

For over ten years, the ESA's Gaia Observatory has monitored the proper motion, luminosity, temperature,…

2 days ago

Lunar Infrastructure Could Be Protected By Autonomously Building A Rock Wall

Lunar exploration equipment at any future lunar base is in danger from debris blasted toward…

2 days ago

Why is Jupiter’s Great Red Spot Shrinking? It’s Starving.

The largest storm in the Solar System is shrinking and planetary scientists think they have…

3 days ago

ESA is Building a Mission to Visit Asteroid Apophis, Joining it for its 2029 Earth Flyby

According to the ESA's Near-Earth Objects Coordination Center (NEOCC), 35,264 known asteroids regularly cross the…

3 days ago

The Most Dangerous Part of a Space Mission is Fire

Astronauts face multiple risks during space flight, such as microgravity and radiation exposure. Microgravity can…

3 days ago