NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory has captured “significant solar flare” erupting from the Sun, which can likely result in disruptions in GPS signals on Earth as well as supercharge Earth’s northern lights.
The Sun on Thursday emitted an X1-class flare, the most intense so far at 11.35 a.m., NASA said in a statement on Friday.
“POW! The sun just served up a powerful flare,” the US space agency said in a tweet.
The X1-class flare caused a temporary, yet strong radio blackout across the sunlit side of Earth centred on South America, according to the US Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC), which tracks space weather events.
The flare originated from a sunspot called AR2887 currently positioned in the center of the sun and facing the Earth, based on its location, Spaceweather.com reported.
NASA said that the X1-flare is also likely to hit Earth’s magnetic field on Saturday.
Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation. While the harmful radiation from a flare cannot pass through Earth’s atmosphere to physically affect humans on the ground, however, when intense enough, they can disturb the atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communications signals travel. It can also supercharge Earth’s northern lights (auroras).
Further, NASA explained that the X-class denotes the most intense flares, while the number provides more information about its strength. An X2 is twice as intense as an X1, an X3 is three times as intense, etc.
Flares that are classified X10 or stronger are considered unusually intense.
When these intense flares are aimed directly at Earth, it can also be accompanied by a massive eruption of solar particles, called a coronal mass ejection.
The impulsive X1-class flare on Thursday also “appeared to have coronal mass ejection related signatures,” the SWPC said.
According to SpaceWeather.com, it “created a massive tsunami of plasma that rippled across the entire solar disk: The plasma wave was about 100,000 km tall and moved through the sun’s atmosphere faster than 1.6 million mph”.
NOAA forecasters estimate that it is expected to reach Earth with a “60 per cent chance of M-class flares and a 25 per cent chance of another X-flare in the next 24 hours”.
M-class flares are medium-sized; they can cause brief radio blackouts that affect Earth’s polar regions, while C-class flares are small with few noticeable consequences here on Earth.