Solar Flares Aplenty

Last Wednesday through Friday, solar flares of unusual intensity were unleashed. They had the kind of power to interfere with satellite communication and injure astronauts. In fact, they completely disrupted radio transmissions.

The strongest of these flares lashed from the sun around 4 in the morning on Friday. Solar flares are classified on a scale of A, B, C, M, and X—A the lowest in strength and X the highest. The Friday flare was rated as X1.7. So in layman’s terms, it was very strong.

This flare burst forth from a newly discovered sunspot cluster called Region 1882. But not all the solar flares came from here. Other ones, like on Wednesday, were linked to a huge plasma explosion called a coronal mass ejection.

The strongest flares on Wednesday peaked at M9.4—roughly half the power of Friday morning’s. Any solar flares after the 4 AM event also peaked far lower.

Strength, but also direction are crucial to a flare’s impact. X level ones pointed directly towards earth not only knock-out radio and satellite communications. They’ve been capable of disrupting power grids on the earth’s surface.

Luckily, last week’s solar flares weren’t aimed directly at us. As a result, there was only a temporary radio blackout. Still, it’s truly incredible what, for the sun, is a minor occurrence can do to our planet.

Solar flares are of course nothing new. They have though been occurring more frequently. The increased solar activity is due to the sun reaching its solar maximum. These maxima occur in roughly 11 year cycles.

We’ve been tracking them since 1843 when they were first discovered. Scientists, however, have been able to trace past ones to dates long before 1843.

Solar flares and other solar events can create geomagnetic storms on earth. It is these storms that lead to radio, satellite, and power grid disruptions. They also can cause radiation hazards.

Solar maxima on a bigger scale—called grand solar maximum—have had major impacts on history. Throughout the time from 1000 to around 1250, a grand solar maximum coincided with a climatic event called the Medieval Warm Period. This was a time of higher earth temperature and great human prosperity.

This time around, we were spared any significant effects. That said, we’re are still in the midst of the solar maximum period so you can be sure, there’s more to come.

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