Unstable sunspot explodes! Solar storm sparks BLACKOUTS over America, NASA reveals

The sunspot AR3234 exploded in the late hours of February 28, producing a powerful solar flare eruption, as per NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory. The solar storm event caused radio blackouts over both the American continents.

| Updated on: Mar 01 2023, 12:40 IST
Think you know our Sun? Check out THESE 5 stunning facts
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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)
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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)
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Know all about the recent solar storm activity that caused radio blackouts across both the American continents. NASA reveals the details. (Pixabay)

The Earth is being constantly bombarded by solar storms this week. On February 26 and 27, two consecutive coronal mass ejection (CME) clouds struck the Earth, with the latter being recorded as a highly intense G3-class solar storm which caused auroras to be displayed as south as Colorado, delayed a SpaceX rocket launch and caused oil rigs to be stopped in Canada. And yesterday, the unstable sunspot AR3234 again exploded resulting in a M8.6 class solar flare eruption. It was detected by the NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). This massive eruption sparked shortwave radio blackouts across the American continents and fears are that another set of solar storms can be triggered because of it.

The event was reported by SpaceWeather.com which noted on its website, “Sunspot AR3234 exploded today, Feb. 28th at 1750 UTC, producing an M8.6-class solar flare, percentage points below X-class. An impulsive burst of X-rays ionized the top of Earth's atmosphere, causing a shortwave radio blackout over the Americas”. The report also highlighted that CME storms are possible in the coming days.

Solar flare eruption causes radio blackouts

The geoeffective region for this ‘almost X-class' solar flare eruption was the entirety of South America, Mexico and large parts of USA and Canada. Both the American continents came under the effect of the radiation coming from the solar explosion. The radio blackout affected independent planes and drones, small ships as well as amateur radio controllers, who all struggled to broadcast and receive communications.

This is also one of the strongest solar flare explosions seen in recent times, which highlights the increasing intensity of the Sun as it reaches close to its peak. However, the danger is not over yet.

Such eruptions also release a number of coronal mass ejections into space, and these can reach the Earth within a day or so and cause yet another solar storm. Considering how powerful the eruption was, the resultant solar storm can be extremely powerful. A powerful solar storm can potentially damage satellites, break down mobile networks and internet services, cause power grid failures and corrupt sensitive ground-based electronics such as pacemakers and ventilators. However, whether this solar storm can turn so dangerous is something we have to wait and watch.

NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory

The NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) carries a full suite of instruments to observe the Sun and has been doing so since 2010. It uses three very crucial instruments to collect data from various solar activities. They include Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager (HMI) which takes high-resolution measurements of the longitudinal and vector magnetic field over the entire visible solar disk, Extreme Ultraviolet Variability Experiment (EVE) which measures the Sun's extreme ultraviolet irradiance and Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) which provides continuous full-disk observations of the solar chromosphere and corona in seven extreme ultraviolet (EUV) channels.

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First Published Date: 01 Mar, 12:02 IST
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