Astronomers observe two monster solar flares erupting

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory caught two extremely powerful flares erupting from the Sun’s surface


By imaging the Sun in an ultraviolet filter, the active region AR 2673 (shown on the lower right of the image) is clearly emphasised compared to the rest of the surface. Image credit: NASA/Goddard/SDO

On the morning of 6 September 2017, the Sun released two significant solar flares, which were imaged by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). This created an extravagant display, and one of the flares was even recorded as the strongest flare since at least 2008.

The SDO is a satellite observatory launched in 2010. Its primary aim is to observe and monitor the Sun for any solar events that could disrupt space weather. This could prove to be vital for Earth, as the highly energetic particles released from the Sun could have serious consequences for our satellites and their electronics. The first flare was recorded at 9:10 a.m. UTC, followed a few hours later by the second, more powerful, flare at 12:02 p.m. UTC.

Credit: NASA/Goddard/SDO

Flares are categorised by X-class, which represents the intensity of the flares. For example, an X3 flare is three-times more powerful than an X1 flare. In this case, the first flare was denoted a X2.2 flare, while the second was a massive X9.3 flare. Both of these flares originated from the active region AR 2673, which has been notably active in the recent past.

What makes the X9.3 flare even more impressive is that it’s the most intense recorded flare of this current solar cycle – the 11-year cycle where the Sun’s solar activity decreases and increases periodically. The current solar cycle started in December 2008, and at this moment is decreasing in solar activity. This may mean that flares are becoming more rare, but they can still occur with much wrath.

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