March 4, 2024

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The Sun emits a very powerful solar flare (and we might even notice something here on Earth)

The Sun emits a very powerful solar flare (and we might even notice something here on Earth)

Shortly before the fireworks here in the Netherlands and the champagne to ring in the New Year, there were also fireworks on the Sun: our parent star produced the strongest solar flare of the cycle. This may continue to grow.

Late last night, the sun gave off a powerful solar flare. He. She Solar Dynamics Observatory – who constantly watches the sun – recorded the event. You can see the result below; A solar flare can be seen on the left.

Image: NASA/SDO.

A solar flare is an explosion on the surface of the Sun, caused by the sudden release of energy normally contained by the magnetic fields of our parent star. Last night's solar flare was exceptionally strong. According to NASA, it is an X-class solar flare, more precisely: an X5.0 solar flare. (See box).

Solar flares are classified into three different categories based on their intensity, or the amount of energy they radiate. C-class solar flares are small explosions, M-class solar flares are moderate explosions, and X-class solar flares are very powerful explosions on the surface of the Sun. In addition to this letter, solar flares are often assigned a number that explains more about their strength within that category; One X-series solar flare is not like the other. The same applies to C- and M-category solar flares. So, by adding a number – 1-9 – scientists reveal more about the power of a solar flare.

Last night's solar flare will be the strongest solar flare since September 2017 and therefore the strongest solar flare of this cycle. The Sun goes through an approximately 11-year cycle in which solar activity reaches a peak (so-called solar maximum) and a low point (solar minimum). During – and in the lead-up to – solar maximum, large numbers of sunspots form on the Sun and large solar flares occur. According to scientists, we are now heading towards this solar maximum; According to the latest insights, solar activity It should peak between January and October 2024. In that sense, last night's major solar flare is not a huge surprise. In reality; It could just be a prelude to more.

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But now all eyes are on the possible consequences of the solar flare unleashed by the sun yesterday. The so-called coronal mass ejection – or plasma cloud – was also launched. There is a possibility that this cloud – mainly filled with protons and electrons – will hit the Earth tomorrow. This could lead to a geomagnetic storm, or a temporary disturbance in the Earth's magnetosphere. A common result of this is the creation of auroras, which – contrary to what the name suggests – can reach much farther than the poles during violent coronal mass ejections. In the case of this coronal mass ejection, it is expected that it could also provide a view at low latitudes. It remains to be seen whether we will see some of this in the Netherlands as well. But if not, we may get a second chance this year, when solar activity reaches its peak.