Sun Unleashes Powerful X-Class Solar Flare

Article written: 5 Mar , 2012
Updated: 11 Jan , 2016
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The Sun has been quiet recently but early today (04:13 UTC on March 5, 2012) it unleashed a powerful X1-class solar flare and coronal mass ejection. The latest estimates indicate the CME will probably miss Earth, but hit Mercury and Venus. Even so, the science team from the Solar Dynamics Observatory says that high-latitude skywatchers should still be alert for auroras in the nights ahead. There was also an M2-class eruption from the same big and active sunspot, Active Region 1429, on March 4th which produced another, wider CME that might yet intersect Earth. The cloud is expected to deliver a glancing blow to our planet’s magnetic field on March 6th at 04:30 UT (+/- 7 hrs).

Check the latest forecast of the CME’s arrival from the NASA Goddard Space Weather Lab, which includes a great animation.

So, what’s the difference in the classes of solar flares and how could they affect us on Earth?

Flares happen when the powerful magnetic fields in and around the sun reconnect. They’re usually associated with active regions, which we call sunspots, where the magnetic fields are strongest.

Flares are classified according to their strength. The smallest ones are B-class, followed by C, M and X, the largest. Similar to the Richter scale for earthquakes, each letter represents a ten-fold increase in energy output. So an X is 10 times an M and 100 times a C. Within each letter class, there is a finer scale from 1 to 9. Although X is the last letter, there are flares more than 10 times the power of an X1, so X-class flares can go higher than 9.

C-class flares are too weak to noticeably affect Earth. M-class flares can cause brief radio blackouts at the poles and minor radiation storms that might endanger astronauts. The most powerful flare on record was in 2003, during the last solar maximum. It was so powerful that it overloaded the sensors measuring it. They cut-out at X28. A powerful X-class flare like that can create long lasting radiation storms, which can harm satellites and even give airline passengers, flying near the poles, small radiation doses. X flares also have the potential to create global transmission problems and world-wide blackouts.

For the latest on space weather, check out SpaceWeather.com

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16 Responses

  1. Al_Hall says

    Wait a second…. The Sun influences the temperature of our planet???…. That gigantic ball of fire that is in our skies every day..? It somehow influences the temperature on our planet…? I never would have thought of that..!! Some people have told me that the evil humans have made the planet warmer.. Oh well…
    By the way.. What again is so bad about our planet warming up a little more?… I forgot.. a second…. The Sun influences the temperature of our planet???…. That gigantic ball of fire that is in our skies every day..? It somehow influences the temperature on our planet…? I never would have thought of that..!! Some people have told me that the evil humans have made the planet warmer.. Oh well…
    By the way.. What again is so bad about our planet warming up a little more?… I forgot..

    • Baris Bicer says

      The sun does influence temperature on our planet, but many other factors do as well. Greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane trap heat in the atmosphere causing the overall temperature to rise. A lot of the excess CO2 is actually generated by human activity. Our vehicles and power plants produce carbon dioxide.

      Our planet warming up means springs comes early, thus causing plants to bloom earlier. Why is that bad? Many animals follow a “schedule” of sorts based on the seasons, as many mammals and insects do. But that’s not the bad part, the bad part is that as the overall temperature of the planet rises, the ice caps begin to melt as ice does when introduced to a warmer environment. This increases the height of the oceans, which means low coastal areas will be flooded.

      You’re very lucky, I almost snapped violently at your extreme ignorance. Luckily I decided to instead treat you like a child and carefully explain everything.

      • Al_Hall says

        🙂 . Oops.. You almost made me laugh… Did you know that about 90% of all the animal and plant species in the history of this planet evolved during warming trends? Did you know that we are still in an ice age and just going into a warming trend? Did you know that our planet has gone into thousands of ice ages and warming trends since its creation?,.. and often, faster then now….
        We have been going through this latest warming trend for about 100 thousand years.. Around the same time as homo-sapiens started to evolve, I might add…, but yes.. It may be possible that us humans may be accelerating the trend (although I doubt it), but I pose these questions to you:
        If we are the cause of global warming, what should we do?
        If we are not the cause of global warming, what should we do?

      • Al_Hall says

        P.S… Thanks for biting your tongue and not calling me names..

      • Tony Power says

        Or the fact that climate scientists would have us beleive that a 0.006% increas in CO2 is a bigger influence on temperature than a 2-3% increas in solar activity.

      • Ivan B says

        I don’t think that he read the article. I wouldn’t waste the effort to try to teach something to someone who has no interest in anything outside his own head.

    • Ivan B says

      This article was about solar flares…No mention of Climate change…or temperature…Why are you even bringing it up..?

    • laptebatutmar says

      total offtopic

    • Olaf2 says

      You sound like a moron.
      Maybe you should try again and repost a message that sounds a bit more intelligent.

      What are you stating and what are your evidences?

      • Justin Joyner says

        It’s basic Chemistry. Carbon in water lowers its pH. Fish need a certain pH to survive. Also, 70% is a conservative estimate, you’d be surprised how much we need ocean life. Way to make your only argument “That sounded stupid” and not offering anything in return. I’m not required to educate you, so stop insulting me or I’ll just leave you to wallow in your own stupidity.

        EDIT: Do you have any idea how stupid it makes you look not understanding what I said?

    • Justin Joyner says

      Let’s start with carbonic acid, which has a direct correlation with carbon, so it doesn’t even matter if it causes warming. So much carbon in the air, the oceans start taking it on for us, making the waters acidic, and kills off all the fish on the lowest ranks of the food chain. This way, we end up losing 70% of all species on the planet, that sounds fun doesn’t it?

  2. Al_Hall says

    So we can’t blame the warmth of our planet on the sun??.. Dammit..

    • Bernard Gilbert says

      I would submit to you that the amount of garbage ( car emissions and smoke stack pollutants, gasses from old refrigerators , old type spray-cans, etc.) that humanity has been putting into the atmosphere since the latter half of the Industrial Age has not had a beneficial effect towards our planet Whether the current warming trend is natural or not, we should make a concerted effort to greatly reduce OUR contribution to the process.

    • Bernard Gilbert says

      I would submit to you that the amount of garbage ( car emissions and smoke stack pollutants, gasses from old refrigerators , old type spray-cans, etc.) that humanity has been putting into the atmosphere since the latter half of the Industrial Age has not had a beneficial effect towards our planet Whether the current warming trend is natural or not, we should make a concerted effort to greatly reduce OUR contribution to the process.

    • Sean Leslie says

      Climate models account for solar forcing, they include a component that’s calculated using sunspot number records (and similar proxies), based on (IIRC) the observed variations in the solar constant (and how that has varied with sunspot number).

      The suggestion that climate models ignore solar forcing is without merit.

    • Tim Jones says

      We can’t blame the sun on how Earth RETAINS heat.

Comments are closed.