The Sun Hurls its Most Powerful Flare in a Decades

The Sun

The Sun has been vying for attention these last couple of weeks. First with the appearance of a fabulous complex sunspot region and then with a plethora of solar flares. On the 14th May, yet another was released, this time an X8.7 class flare from the same complex sunspot regions. It was significantly more powerful than the flare that set off the aurora displays which enchanted much of the planet but alas it was not pointing toward the Earth ( 🙁 sad emoji face.) Even though it was not directed at us, it could still disrupt communications and electronics but is a reminder that the Sun, whilst is on its way to solar maximum still has lots to give.

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

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

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.

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Solar Orbiter Takes a Mind-Boggling Video of the Sun

The 'fuzzy' Sun. Credit: ESA & NASA/Solar Orbiter/EUI Team

You’ve seen the Sun, but you’ve never seen the Sun like this. This single frame from a video captured by ESA’s Solar Orbiter mission shows the Sun looking very …. fluffy!  You can see feathery, hair-like structures made of plasma following magnetic field lines in the Sun’s lower atmosphere as it transitions into the much hotter outer corona. The video was taken from about a third of the distance between the Earth and the Sun.

See the full video below, which shows unusual features on the Sun, including coronal moss, spicules, and coronal rain.  

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The Solar Eclipse Like We’ve Never Seen it Before

This image from the Inouye Solar Telescope shows the Moon blocking out part of the Sun during the April 8th solar eclipse. Image Credit: Credit: DKIST/NSO/NSF/AURA

You had to be in the right part of North America to get a great view of the recent solar eclipse. But a particular telescope may have had the most unique view of all. Even though that telescope is in Hawaii and only experienced a partial eclipse, its images are interesting.

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Formation-Flying Spacecraft Could Probe the Solar System for New Physics

A solar flare erupts on the Sun. Credit: NASA/GSFC/SDO

It’s an exciting time for the fields of astronomy, astrophysics, and cosmology. Thanks to cutting-edge observatories, instruments, and new techniques, scientists are getting closer to experimentally verifying theories that remain largely untested. These theories address some of the most pressing questions scientists have about the Universe and the physical laws governing it – like the nature of gravity, Dark Matter, and Dark Energy. For decades, scientists have postulated that either there is additional physics at work or that our predominant cosmological model needs to be revised.

While the investigation into the existence and nature of Dark Matter and Dark Energy is ongoing, there are also attempts to resolve these mysteries with the possible existence of new physics. In a recent paper, a team of NASA researchers proposed how spacecraft could search for evidence of additional physical within our Solar Systems. This search, they argue, would be assisted by the spacecraft flying in a tetrahedral formation and using interferometers. Such a mission could help resolve a cosmological mystery that has eluded scientists for over half a century.

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Here's the Total Solar Eclipse, Seen From Space

Credit: NASA/Keegan Barber

On Monday, April 8th, people across North America witnessed a rare celestial event known as a total solar eclipse. This phenomenon occurs when the Moon passes between the Sun and Earth and blocks the face of the Sun for a short period. The eclipse plunged the sky into darkness for people living in the Canadian Maritimes, the American Eastern Seaboard, parts of the Midwest, and northern Mexico. Fortunately for all, geostationary satellites orbiting Earth captured images of the Moon’s shadow as it moved across North America.

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WISPR Team Images Turbulence within Solar Transients for the First Time

Visible light observations of a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) acquired by the Wide Field Imager for Solar Probe (WISPR) telescopes

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe has been in studying the Sun for the last six years. In 2021 it was hit directly by a coronal mass ejection when it was a mere 10 million kilometres from the solar surface. Luckily it was gathering data and images enabling scientists to piece together an amazing video. The interactions between the solar wind and the coronal mass ejection were measured giving an unprecedented view of the solar corona. 

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What Happens to Solar Systems When Stars Become White Dwarfs?

In this artist's illustration, lumps of debris from a disrupted planetesimal are irregularly spaced on a long and eccentric orbit around a white dwarf. Credit: Dr Mark Garlick/The University of Warwick

In a couple billion years, our Sun will be unrecognizable. It will swell up and become a red giant, then shrink again and become a white dwarf. The inner planets aren’t expected to survive all the mayhem these transitions unleash, but what will happen to them? What will happen to the outer planets?

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Someone Just Found SOHO's 5,000th Comet

The 5,000th comet discovered with the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) spacecraft is noted by a small white box in the upper left portion of this image. A zoomed-in inset shows the comet as a faint dot between the white vertical lines. The image was taken on March 25, 2024, by SOHO’s Large Angle and Spectrometric Coronagraph (LASCO), which uses a disk to block the bright Sun and reveal faint features around it. Credit: NASA/ESA/SOHO

The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) was designed to examine the Sun, but as a side benefit, it has been the most successful comet hunter ever built. Since early in the mission, citizen scientists have been scanning through the telescope’s data, searching for icy objects passing close to the Sun. An astronomy student in Czechia has identified 200 comets in SOHO data since he started in 2009 at the age of 13. He recently spotted the observatory’s 5,000th comet.

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Parker Solar Probe Was Blasted by Coronal Mass Ejections 28 Times in 4 Years

Artist's rendition of NASA's Parker Solar Probe. (Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe (PSP) was launched on August 12, 2018, with the goal of becoming the first spacecraft to touch the Sun while teaching us more about our host star than any spacecraft or solar instrument in human history. Now, a recent study submitted to The Astrophysical Journal discusses the incredible data that PSP collected on coronal mass ejections (CMEs) over a four-year period. This study holds the potential to help scientists and the public better understand the CMEs and how they contribute to space weather.

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