Dangerous sunspots could hurl out terrifying M-class solar flares at Earth!

Solar regions are harbouring multiple sunspots which could hurl out M-class solar flares, putting the planet at risk.

| Updated on: Apr 17 2023, 09:26 IST
NASA: From Solar Winds, Solar Flares to CME, check how solar phenomena impact Earth
Solar storm
1/5 The harrowing thing is that it will not just be China that would be affected by such a devastating solar storm. (NASA)
Solar Flare
2/5 Solar Flares: Solar flares are photon flares emitted from the Sun which travel from the flare site. They are rated on the basis of their intensity with the highest being an X-rated solar flare. It can cause power and radio blackouts and are responsible for the stunning phenomenon known to us as the Northern Lights or Auroras. (NASA/SDO)
3/5 Coronal Mass Ejections (CME): CMEs are massive plasma clouds carrying photons that are ejected from the Sun. CME occurs during the solar cycle and is at peak in the middle of the cycle. (NASA)
Coronal Mass Ejection or CME
4/5 Solar Winds: Solar winds are high speed winds coming from holes in the Sun called Coronal holes. These holes can form anywhere on the surface of the Sun. If these solar winds prevail near the solar equator, they can cause impact on Earth, according to NASA. (Pixabay)
Solar Particles
5/5 Solar Energetic Particles: Solar energetic particles are emitted from the Sun during Coronal Mass Ejections. These are charged particles; hence they follow the magnetic field lines between the Sun and the Earth and if they pass the magnetic fields near Earth, they have an impact. (NASA)
Solar Flare
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There is a danger of a solar flares being hurled out by sunspots straight at Earth. (NASA SDO)

Remember the film 2012 which showed the end of the world, as predicted by the ancient Mayan civilisation thousands of years ago? The film's plot was based on the Sun releasing unstable neutrinos due to unusual energy processes in the Sun which were heating up Earth's core. Although this might seem like a terrifying scenario, the science behind the film was questionable. But the threat posed by the Sun is very true. Forecasters have recently discovered multiple sunspots on the solar surface which could hurl dangerous solar flares towards Earth.

Solar flare risk

According to a report by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), multiple sunspots, named AR3280 and AR3281, have been observed in the solar regions. These sunspots are dangerous as they currently have unstable 'beta-gamma' magnetic fields. Although this solar activity might seem harmless due to the distance of the Sun from our planet, they can cause major damage. Because of the unstable nature of these sunspots, there is a chance of M-class solar flares.

According to NASA, Sunspots are dark areas on the solar surface which contain strong magnetic fields that are constantly shifting and can form and dissipate over periods of days or weeks. As solar flares travel out directly from the flare site, if we can see the flare, we can be impacted by it.

How are solar flares rated?

According to NASA, solar flares are classified according to their strength on the logarithmic scale, similar to how earthquakes are measured. The smallest ones are A-class which occur at near background levels, followed by B, C, M and X. Similar to the Richter scale for earthquakes, each letter represents a 10-fold increase in energy output. So an X is ten times an M and 100 times a C. Within each letter class there is a finer scale from 1 to 9.

Solar observation tech

While many space agencies from NASA with its Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) keep track of Sun-based weather phenomena, one that particularly stands out is the DSCOVR satellite by NOAA. The satellite became operational in 2016 and tracks different measurements of the Sun and its atmosphere including temperature, speed, density, degree of orientation and frequency of the solar particles. The recovered data is then run through the Space Weather Prediction Center and the final analysis is prepared.

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First Published Date: 17 Apr, 09:26 IST
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