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Nasa captures powerful X-class solar flares emitted by the sun

The sun released an intense third flare on Wednesday morning

Heather Saul
Thursday 12 June 2014 12:37 BST
An X2.2 flare solar flare bursts off the left limb of the sun in this image captured by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory on June 10, 2014, at 7:41 a.m. EDT.
An X2.2 flare solar flare bursts off the left limb of the sun in this image captured by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory on June 10, 2014, at 7:41 a.m. EDT. (NASA/SDO/Goddard/Wiessinger)

Nasa has captured dramatic images of the sun as it emitted three X-class solar flares, the second of which occurred just an hour after the first.

Nasa’s Solar Dynamics Observatory observed the sun as a significant solar flare burst from its left side, peaking at 7.42 am EDT on 10 June. The sun then released a second X-class flare which peaked just over an hour later at 8.52am.

The third, classified as an X1.0, erupted today and peaked at 5:06 a.m. EDT.

Nasa explains that solar flares are the most powerful bursts of radiation that cannot pass through Earth's atmosphere to physically affect humans on the ground.

However, the flares can disturb the Earth’s atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communications signals travel.

The second X-class flare of June 10, 2014, appears as a bright flash on the left side of this image from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (NASA/SDO)

Tuesday's flares, which measured X2.2 and X1.5, were reportedly powerful enough to temporarily interfere with radio communications in Europe.

Dr Dan Brown, an astronomy expert at Nottingham Trent University, said the flares can create a radio blackout event classed as "R3" which are common during the sun's activity cycle.

Michael Lockwood, a Professor of Space Environment Physics at the University of Reading, said any interference would have been short-lived. He told The Independent: “You do get radio noise from solar flares and if you can see the actual flare then you will pick up radio noise. It can affect radar communications systems, but it is quite a brief pulse.

"More significant is if there is an associated coronal mass ejection (CME) - very large amounts of material being blown out of atmosphere into space. From the position of this, it won’t be directed towards us – they have to be much nearer to the centre of the visible disc of the sun to hit us."

The arrival of one of these CMEs would disrupt satellite communications, he explained, but this was not directed at Earth.

"We are talking about the effects purely on radio systems," he added.

The 'X' classification represents the most intense flares, and the number reflects how strong the flare is. For example, an X2 is twice as intense as an X1, and an X3 is three times as intense.

The X2.2 was not the strongest kind of X-ray flare encountered in our solar cycle, said Dr Brown. "This was the X5.4 rated flare in March 2012.”

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