M9.6-class solar flare EXPLODES, sparks blackouts! Satellite hints at new solar storm

A terrifyingly powerful M9.6-class solar flare erupted on the Sun yesterday, May 16, causing radio blackouts in North America. Now, fears over another solar storm Is being expressed by astronomers.

| Updated on: May 17 2023, 10:35 IST
Think you know our Sun? Check out THESE 5 stunning facts
1/5 The Sun is the largest object in our solar system and is a 4.5 billion-year-old star – a hot glowing ball of hydrogen and helium at the center of the solar system. It is about 93 million miles (150 million kilometers) from Earth, and without its energy, life as we know it could not exist here on our home planet. (Pixabay)
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2/5 The Sun’s volume would need 1.3 million Earths to fill it. Its gravity holds the solar system together, keeping everything from the biggest planets to the smallest bits of debris in orbit around it. The hottest part of the Sun is its core, where temperatures top 27 million degrees Fahrenheit (15 million degrees Celsius). The Sun’s activity, from its powerful eruptions to the steady stream of charged particles it sends out, influences the nature of space throughout the solar system. (NASA)
3/5 According to NASA, measuring a “day” on the Sun is complicated because of the way it rotates. It doesn't spin as a single, solid ball. This is because the Sun’s surface isn't solid like Earth's. Instead, the Sun is made of super-hot, electrically charged gas called plasma. This plasma rotates at different speeds on different parts of the Sun. At its equator, the Sun completes one rotation in 25 Earth days. At its poles, the Sun rotates once on its axis every 36 Earth days. (NASA)
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4/5 Above the Sun’s surface are its thin chromosphere and the huge corona (crown). This is where we see features such as solar prominences, flares, and coronal mass ejections. The latter two are giant explosions of energy and particles that can reach Earth. (Pixabay)
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5/5 The Sun doesn’t have moons, but eight planets orbit it, at least five dwarf planets, tens of thousands of asteroids, and perhaps three trillion comets and icy bodies. Also, several spacecraft are currently investigating the Sun including Parker Solar Probe, STEREO, Solar Orbiter, SOHO, Solar Dynamics Observatory, Hinode, IRIS, and Wind. (Pixabay)
Solar storm
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Know all about the intense solar flare eruption that sparked radio blackouts in North America. (Pixabay)

After a relatively low period of solar activity, the Sun sprung back into action yesterday, May 16. A near-X-class solar flare eruption occurred on the southeastern limb of the Sun. Even as the explosion was on the horizon of the Sun and a part of it was eclipsed due to its edge, the solar flare had a major impact on the Earth. Ultraviolet radiation ionized the upper atmosphere and caused a shortwave radio blackout over North America and the northern parts of South America. And now, fears are rising over another major solar storm that could be headed toward the Earth.

As per a SpaceWeather.com report, “Earth-orbiting satellites detected an M9.6-class solar flare from a sunspot hiding behind the sun's southeastern limb. It was only percentage points away from being an X-flare. The event could herald a period of renewed solar activity as the sunspot turns toward Earth”.

Solar storm fears rise for the Earth

The radio blackout was so severe that several reports highlighted that most of the shortwave frequencies faded away when the flare erupted. This would have affected mariners, amateur radio operators, and aviators. The blackout persisted for about an hour before subsiding.

Next, the Earth must prepare for an incoming coronal mass ejection (CME) that can cause further solar storms. And even if we were lucky enough to escape that, the massive sunspot that caused the flare explosion will soon face our planet. The sunspot is crackling with solar flares and can possibly hurl multiple CME clouds towards us triggering a chain of solar storm events.

How NASA SOHO monitors the Sun

NASA's SOHO (Solar and Heliospheric Observatory) is a satellite that was launched on December 2, 1995. It is a joint project between NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) to study the sun, its atmosphere, and its effects on the solar system. Equipped with 12 scientific instruments, such as Extreme Ultraviolet Imaging Telescope (EIT), Michelson Doppler Imager (MDI), LASCO (Large Angle and Spectrometric Coronagraph) and others, SOHO captures images of the sun's corona, measures the velocity and magnetic fields of the sun's surface, and observes the faint corona around the Sun.

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First Published Date: 17 May, 10:30 IST