The Sciences

Another big solar flare

Bad AstronomyBy Phil PlaitAug 9, 2011 2:32 PM


Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

At 03:48 UT on August 9 (earlier today as I write this), the Sun blasted out another flare, the largest of the cycle so far. It was seen by the orbiting Solar Dynamics Observatory:

[Click to ensolarnate.] This image shows the Sun in the far ultraviolet; sunspots appear bright at this wavelength and the flare is pretty obvious! It came from a sunspot that is near the Sun's limb. Since it was so far to the side it's unlikely to do us much harm here on the Earth's surface, though there may be some satellite communication issues. It also blew out a storm of subatomic particles, which might potentially harm astronauts in space. I haven't heard yet if the crew on the space station will need to seek shelter deeper inside the structure (they've had to do that before in solar events, but there's never been any case of diagnosed harm). SDO also captured pretty dramatic video of the event:

This was an X6.9 flare, which is pretty big

, but still not like the ones we saw in late 2003 which were far more powerful. Still, this is the biggest flare from the new solar cycle, and I think the first flare from this particular sunspot, named Active Region 1263. Last week, AR 126a blew out several flares

, but none as big as this one. By coincidence I was at Big Bear Solar Observatory in California just two days ago, and saw AR 1263 roiling on the Sun's surface. 1261 was already about to slip behind to the far side of the Sun, and I didn't think much of 1263 because it was near the edge as well. It goes to show you that with our nearest star, it's best to expect the unexpected! ... and the astronomers with whom I talked were keeping their eyes on several other spots on the Sun as well. The new solar cycle is ramping up, so one thing I can say with some certainty is that we'll see more and more powerful flares as time goes on. [Updated to add: I originally wrote that this was an M6.9 flare, when it is in fact an X6.9 flare, which is ten times more powerful, and the biggest so far in years. To avoid confusion, I simply corrected the mistake in the post. My apologies.]Credit: NASA/SDO/

Related posts: - Sun blows out another big one; expect aurorae tonight - The Sun lets out a brief flare - The Sun lets loose a huge explosion - INCREDIBLE solar flare video

1 free article left
Want More? Get unlimited access for as low as $1.99/month

Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

1 free articleSubscribe
Discover Magazine Logo
Want more?

Keep reading for as low as $1.99!


Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

More From Discover
Recommendations From Our Store
Shop Now
Stay Curious
Our List

Sign up for our weekly science updates.

To The Magazine

Save up to 70% off the cover price when you subscribe to Discover magazine.

Copyright © 2022 Kalmbach Media Co.