The sun emitted a mid-level solar flare on Thursday from a sunspot known as AR 1520, according to a NASA report. The solar flare began at 1:13 a.m. EDT and peaked at 1:58 a.m. The space agency notes that solar flares are “gigantic bursts of radiation” that are harmless to humans because they can’t pass through Earth’s atmosphere.
However, strong solar flares, like an X-class flare, can disrupt the atmosphere and cause radio blackouts. An X-class solar flare erupted from the sun on July 12, according to a Space.com report. The X-class solar flare erupted from the same region as last Thursday’s mid-level solar flare.
U.S. News & World Reports notes that the X-class solar flare was strong enough to black out NOAA radio. It was the sixth X-class flare of 2012. Citing NASA scientists Phillip Chamberlain, the article says that strong solar flares will continue through the beginning of 2014 as the sun enters the most active period of its eight-year solar cycle.
Radio blackouts can also occur with mid-level solar flares.
“Region 1520, now past the west limb, continues to erupt. It produced an R2 (moderate) Radio Blackout and a CME earlier today. Although not clearly Earth-directed, forecasters are analyzing it for tangential effects on the geomagnetic field. An S1 (minor) Solar Radiation Storm soon followed the eruption,” NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center said Thursday.
NASA says Thursday’s flare is classified as an M7.7 flare. This mid-level flare is weaker than the largest flares, which are known as X-class flares. M-class flares typically cause brief radio communication blackouts at the North and South poles.
The sun’s standard 11-year solar cycle is ramping up toward solar maximum, which is expected in 2013. It is quite normal for there to be numerous flares a day during the sun’s peak activity.
In an update to their article, NASA notes that a coronal mass ejection (CME) was also associated with the mid-level solar flare. A CME is another solar phenomenon that can send solar particles into space and can reach Earth one to three days later, affecting electronic systems in satellites and on the ground. However, NASA researchers don’t believe these solar particles are headed towards Earth.