NASA detects strongest solar flare in more than a decade

The space agency said radiation from solar flares "cannot pass through Earth's atmosphere to physically affect humans on the ground". The biggest flare ever recorded, in 2003, was so strong it even knocked out NASA's solar measurement equipment.

"Flash has already given the deterioration in the quality of connections in Europe and America", - said the expert. The radiation coming from the flares, could disrupt communications satellites, the Global Positioning System and power grids by reaching the upper Earth atmosphere.

Both events were X-Class solar flares, the most severe classification, and one of them was the most powerful since 2005, Engadget reported. Flares can last for minutes or hours, raising the local temperature of the Sun's surface by tens of millions of degrees. And as the sun rotates, magnetic loops become wrapped, becoming tighter and tighter as they twist. Like Earth, the sun has a magnetic field, sort of like a looped rubber band: at one end is the south pole, the other the north.

The most recent X9 flare took place in 2006, at X9.0.

Solar flares most often produce a secondary effect called a coronal mass ejection, or CME. These jets of ionized matter are projected at high speed in and beyond the crown of the sun, to hundreds of thousands of kilometers altitude. Scientists are still watching to see if a CME is making its way toward the Earth.

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In addition to lovely auroras, the geomagnetic storm could disrupt communications, as well as damage satellites and power grids.

While a CME did erupt in the wake of these two solar flares, NASA is still trying to analyze whether or not Earth is in its path. "However, we have to wait until we get some coronagraph imagery that would capture that event for a definitive answer".

"X-class denotes the most intense flares, while the number provides more information about its strength".

There are several ranking categories used to measure solar flares, with the strongest receiving a C, M, or X rating.

  • Regina Walsh