August 9, 2011

Solar Flares Heating Up

The second massive solar flare in just two months has just occurred. On June 7th, 2011 a massive solar flare erupted. Now, on Tuesday August 8th, two months later another has occurred--this one even bigger than the one before and the largest in two years.

This intense level was last seen in the late 1800's with Northern Lights being observed as far south as Cuba. But the US and Canada was not electrified then. If we see similar levels again, there could be massive power outages and fried communication satellites that would cause many months of outage and disruption. Blame it on the Maxwell equations, or on the aligning of events before the return of the Lord.

June Solar Flare:

The sun emitted an unusual solar flare, a small radiation storm and a spectacular coronal mass ejection (CME) from a sunspot complex on the solar surface, on Tuesday. The flare peaked at 1:41 a.m. ET, according to NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO).

(Photo: IBTimes/NASA)<br>Coronal Mass Ejection as viewed by the Solar Dynamics Observatory on June 7, 2011.The Sun unleashed an M-2 (medium-sized) solar flare, an S1-class (minor) radiation storm and a spectacular coronal mass ejection (CME) on June 7, 2011 from sunspot complex 1226-1227. The large cloud of particles mushroomed up and fell back down looking as if it covered an area of almost half the solar surface. Credit: NASA/SDO

The US National Weather Service (NWS) said in a statement that the solar flare released radiation not witnessed since 2006, with the present one measured by NASA as M-2 or medium sized solar flare that carries "a substantial coronal mass ejection (CME) ... and is visually spectacular."

At most, the NWS said that the eruption will likely bring minor (G1) to moderate (G2) levels of geomagnetic storm activities, which could disturb Earth's power grids and global positioning systems that heavily rely on satellite communications.

The Sun released a moderate-classed solar flare (M2) and an S1-class (minor) radiation storm that will likely lead to moderate geomagnetic storm activity by Wednesday, which could disrupt communications and grids in some locations. This flare was a different kind because it started out slow, then the sun blasted it off like a volcanic eruption.

August Solar Flare:

An extremely powerful solar flare, the largest in over four years, rocked the sun early Tuesday (Aug. 9), but is unlikely to wreak any serious havoc here on Earth, scientists say.

"It was a big flare," said Joe Kunches, a space scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)'s Space Weather Prediction Center. "We lucked out because the site of the eruption at the sun was not facing the Earth, so we will probably feel no ill effects."

Today's solar flare began at 3:48 a.m. EDT (0748 GMT), and was rated a class X6.9 on the three-class scale scientists use to measure the strength of solar flares. The strongest type of solar eruption is class X, while class C represents the weakest and class M flares are medium-strength events. [Video: Aug. 9 Solar Flare Briefly Knocks Out HF Radio]

The flare is the largest one yet in the sun's current cycle, which began in 2008 and is expected to last until around 2020. Solar activity waxes and wanes over an 11-year sun weather cycle, with the star currently heading toward a solar maximum in 2013.

"This flare had a GOES 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," scientists with NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, a space observatory that monitors the sun, wrote in an update.

Before the Feb. 15 storm, the largest recent solar flare occurred in December 2006, when an X9-class solar storm erupted from the sun.

Solar flares occur when magnetic field lines on the sun get tangled up into knots, building potential energy until they reach a tipping point. Then, that energy is converted into heat, light and the motion of charged particles.

While all X-class solar eruptions are major events, they pose the greatest threat to Earth when they are aimed directly at the planet. During those events the sun often releases a cloud of plasma called a coronal mass ejection into space, and sometimes toward Earth. This ejection hurls charged particles that can damage satellites, endanger astronauts in orbit, and interfere with power systems, communications and other infrastructure on the planet.

Today's solar flare, and resulting coronal mass ejection (CME) was not aimed at us, however. [Anatomy of Sun Storms & Solar Flares (Infographic)]

"Because of its position the CME is going to shoot out into space and not be Earth-directed, and we don’t expect any big geomagnetic storm with this," Kunches told "We did luck out. If this would have happened a week ago, who knows?"

However, some VLF and HF radio communications blackouts have been reported, according to, a website that monitors space weather events.

Whatever particles do head our way should reach us in a few days.

"The cloud will probably miss Earth," wrote. "At this time, however, we cannot rule out a glancing blow from the flank of the CME on or about August 11th."

The plus side of such a collision is often unusually spectacular auroras, or Northern and Southern Lights, which occur when charged particles interact with Earth's magnetic field.

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