Third solar flare in 48 hours marks an increasingly active Sun

Sun erupted with multiple flares in two days, a pace of activity likely to increase over the next three years

Jon Kelvey
Friday 22 April 2022 20:49
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Related video: The Sun Just Ejected One of Its Strongest X-Class Solar Flares

Solar storm activity continues to increase as the Sun heads towards the peak of its 11-year cycle, with three solar flares erupting from our home star in two days.

The most recent solar flare erupted from the Sun’s surface Wednesday evening, according to Nasa, and the space agency’s Solar Dynamics Observatory caught an image of the flare as it erupted.

A solar flare is an explosion and concomitant eruption of radiation from the surface of the Sun. Some solar flares also trigger a coronal mass ejection, a plume of charged particles flung free of the Sun and which can interrupt communications and damage electric grids or satellites when reaching Earth.

Wednesday’s flare follows on the heels of two solar flares observed on the evening of Tuesday 19 April. The first of Tuesday’s flares was a relatively mild, M-class flare, as was the flare on Wednesday.

But the second flare on Tuesday was the most powerful solar flare observed in five years, an X-class flare. An M-class flare is a tenth the size of an X-class flare, where additional numbers denote a flare’s specific strength.

The X-class flare on Wednesday measured an X2.2 using the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scale, a strong but not severe flare. The most powerful flare ever recorded was seen in 2003 and measured greater than X28.

The increasing frequency and intensity of solar eruptions are to be expected as the Sun heads toward the peak of its 11-year sunspot cycle sometime in 2025. The magnetic field lines that form sunspots are also involved in solar eruptions, flares, and coronal mass ejections.

The increasing solar activity comes at the same time as an unprecedented amount of space activity, especially new commercial satellites in low Earth orbit, all of which can be threatened by solar eruptions. On 4 February, a geomagnetic storm caused by a coronal mass ejection swelled Earth’s upper atmosphere and dragged 40 newly launched SpaceX satellites out of orbit.

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