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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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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Solar Storms Could Cause Mayhem to Trains

Solar storm. Image credit: NASA
Solar storm. Image credit: NASA

The rail service here in the UK is often the brunt of jokes. If it’s not the wrong type of rain, or the leaves are laying on the tracks the wrong way then it’s some other seemingly ludicrous reason that the trains are delayed, or even cancelled. A recent study by scientists at the University of Lancaster suggest that even the solar wind might cause train signals to be incorrectly triggered with potentially disastrous consequences.

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Earth’s Past and Future Habitability Depends on Our Protection from Space Weather

Sun with a huge coronal mass ejection. Image credit: NASA

A bewildering number of factors and variables led up to the planet we occupy today, where life finds a way to survive and even thrive in the most marginal conditions. The Sun is the catalyst for it all, propelling life on its journey to greater complexity with its steady fusion.

But the Sun is only benign because of Earth’s built-in protection, the magnetosphere. Both the Sun and the magnetosphere have changed over time, with each one’s strength ebbing and flowing. The Sun drives powerful space weather our way, and the magnetosphere shields the Earth.

How have these two phenomena shaped Earth’s habitability?

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These New Computer Simulations of the Sun are Hypnotic

Computer simulation of magnetic structures in solar-like conditions. Image: Jörn Warnecke

It’s almost impossible to over-emphasize the primal, raging, natural power of a star. Our Sun may appear benign in simple observations, but with the advanced scientific instruments at our disposal in modern times, we know differently. In observations outside the narrow band of light our eyes can see, the Sun appears as an enraged, infuriated sphere, occasionally hurling huge jets of plasma into space, some of which slam into Earth.

Jets of plasma slamming into Earth isn’t something to be celebrated (unless you’re in a weird cult); it can cause all kinds of problems.

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133 Days of the Sun’s Glory

NASA has created a video based on 133 days of observations by the Solar Dynamics Observatory. The hour-long video is a captivating look at four months of the Sun's approximately 10 billion year lifetime. Image Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center/SDO

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center has released an hour-long time-lapse video that shows 133 days of the Sun’s life. The video shows the Sun’s chaotic surface, where great loops of plasma arch above the star along magnetic field lines. Sometimes the looping plasma reconnects to the star, and other times it’s ejected into space, creating hazardous space weather.

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The Sun Could Hurl Powerful Storms at Earth From its Goofy Smile

NASA recently photographed the Sun "smiling" (Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center/Solar Dynamics Observatory)

Our Sun is the very reason we’re alive. It provides warmth and the energy our planet needs to keep going. Now you can add photogenic to its illustrious résumé, as NASA recently photographed our giant ball of nuclear fusion doing something quite peculiar.

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During a Solar Flare, Dark Voids Move Down Towards the Sun. Now We Know Why

Solar flares are complex phenomena. They involve plasma, electromagnetic radiation across all wavelengths, activity in the Sun’s atmosphere layers, and particles travelling at near light speed. Spacecraft like NASA’s Solar and Heliophysics Observatory (SOHO) and the Parker Solar Probe shed new light on the Sun’s solar flares.

But it was a Japanese-led mission called Yohkoh that spotted an unusual solar flare in 1999. This flare displayed a downward flowing motion toward the Sun along with the normal outward flow. What caused it?

A team of researchers think they’ve figured it out.

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What Would Raindrops be Like on Other Worlds?

Precipitation is much more widespread throughout that solar system than commonly assumed.  Obviously it rains water on Earth.  But it snows carbon dioxide on Mars, rains methane on Titan, sulfuric acid on Venus, and could potentially rain diamonds on Neptune.  The type of material falling out of the sky is almost as varied as the planets themselves.  New research from a team led by Kaitlyn Loftus at Harvard found a similarity for all of the liquid materials that constitute rain throughout the solar system – all of the drops, no matter the material, are roughly the same size.

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Stellar Flares May Not Condemn a Planet’s Habitability

An artistic rendering of a series of powerful stellar flares. New research says that flaring activity may not prevent life on exoplanets. CREDIT NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/S. Wiessinger

Red dwarf stars are the most common kind of star in our neighbourhood, and probably in the Milky Way. Because of that, many of the Earth-like and potentially life-supporting exoplanets we’ve detected are in orbit around red dwarfs. The problem is that red dwarfs can exhibit intense flaring behaviour, much more energetic than our relatively placid Sun.

So what does that mean for the potential of those exoplanets to actually support life?

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