Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Classifying solar eruptions

Date:
January 26, 2012
Source:
NASA
Summary:
Solar flares are giant explosions on the sun that send energy, light and high speed particles into space. These flares are often associated with solar magnetic storms known as coronal mass ejections (CMEs). While these are the most common solar events, the sun can also emit streams of very fast protons -- known as solar energetic particle (SEP) events -- and disturbances in the solar wind known as corotating interaction regions (CIRs). All of these can produce a variety of "storms" on Earth that can -- if strong enough -- interfere with short wave radio communications, GPS signals, and Earth's power grid, among other things.

The sun erupted on January 22-23, 2012 with an M8.7 class flare, captured here in a movie by the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). The flare wasn’t quite as strong as an X-class, but the associated solar energetic particle (SEP) event caused the biggest solar radiation storm since 2003.
Credit: NASA/SDO/Helioviewer

Solar flares are giant explosions on the sun that send energy, light and high speed particles into space. These flares are often associated with solar magnetic storms known as coronal mass ejections (CMEs). While these are the most common solar events, the sun can also emit streams of very fast protons -- known as solar energetic particle (SEP) events -- and disturbances in the solar wind known as corotating interaction regions (CIRs). All of these can produce a variety of "storms" on Earth that can -- if strong enough -- interfere with short wave radio communications, GPS signals, and Earth's power grid, among other things.

Related Articles


The amount of solar activity increases approximately every 11 years, and the sun is currently moving toward another solar maximum, likely in 2013. That means more flares will be coming, some small and some big enough to send their radiation all the way to Earth.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has devised categories for the flares and various storms. The biggest flares are known as "X-class flares" based on a classification system that divides solar flares according to their strength. The smallest ones are A-class (near background levels), followed by B, C, M, and X. Similar to the Richter scale for earthquakes, each letter represents a 10-fold increase in energy output. So an X is ten times an M and 100 times a C. Within each letter class there is a finer scale from 1 to 9.

C-class and smaller flares are too weak to noticeably affect Earth. M-class flares can cause brief radio blackouts at the poles and minor radiation storms that might endanger astronauts.

And then come the X-class flares. Although X is the last letter, there are flares more than 10 times the power of an X1, so X-class flares can go higher than 9. The most powerful flare measured with modern methods was in 2003, during the last solar maximum, and it was so powerful that it overloaded the sensors measuring it. The sensors cut out at X15, but the flare was estimated to be as high as an X28.

The biggest X-class flares are by far the largest explosions in the solar system and are awesome to watch. Loops tens of times the size of Earth leap up off the sun's surface when the sun's magnetic fields cross over each other and reconnect. In the biggest events, this reconnection process can produce as much energy as a billion hydrogen bombs.

As the sun moves towards its next solar maximum and heats up, we are already seeing an increase in activity. The first X-class flare of the current solar cycle erupted on February 15, 2011, and there were more over the summer. On January 23, 2012, the sun unleashed an M8.7 flare accompanied by a CME and an SEP that created one of the strongest radiation storms since 2005.

If they're directed at Earth, such flares and associated solar events can create long lasting radiation storms that can harm satellites, communications systems, and even ground-based technologies and power grids. NASA and NOAA -- as well as the US Air Force Weather Agency (AFWA) and others -- keep a constant watch on the sun to monitor for X-class flares and their associated magnetic storms. With advance warning many satellites, spacecraft and technologies can be protected from the worst effects.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by NASA. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

NASA. "Classifying solar eruptions." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 26 January 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/01/120125093821.htm>.
NASA. (2012, January 26). Classifying solar eruptions. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/01/120125093821.htm
NASA. "Classifying solar eruptions." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/01/120125093821.htm (accessed December 22, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Earth & Climate News

Monday, December 22, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: Lava Inches Closer to Highway

Raw: Lava Inches Closer to Highway

AP (Dec. 21, 2014) Officials have opened a new road on Hawaii's Big Island for drivers to take care of their daily needs if encroaching lava from Kilauea Volcano crosses a highway and cuts them off from the rest of the island. (Dec. 20) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Scuba Diving Santa Off Florida Keys

Raw: Scuba Diving Santa Off Florida Keys

AP (Dec. 20, 2014) A scuba diving Santa Claus explored the waters of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Dive shop owner Spencer Slate makes the dive each year to help raise money for charity. (Dec. 20) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Obama: Better Ways to Create Jobs Than Keystone Pipeline

Obama: Better Ways to Create Jobs Than Keystone Pipeline

AFP (Dec. 19, 2014) US President Barack Obama says that construction of the Keystone pipeline would have 'very little impact' on US gas prices and believes there are 'more direct ways' to create construction jobs. Duration: 00:47 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Lava on Track to Hit Hawaii Market

Raw: Lava on Track to Hit Hawaii Market

AP (Dec. 19, 2014) Lava from an active volcano on Hawaii's Big Island slowed slightly but stayed on track to hit a shopping center in the small town of Pahoa. (Dec. 19) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins