Monthly Archives: March 2012

Return of Sunspot AR1429

Earlier this month sunspot AR1429 which was the source of several strong solar flares and geomagnetic storms is beginning to reappear after a two week trip on the other (backside) of the sun. While on the backside there was a least one X class solar flare. Solar flares are ranked by strength using five categories: A, B, C, M and X. With the return of sunspot AR1429, this region seems to be very active. In the image below, magnetic loops towering over the sun’s NE limb signal the sunspot’s approach.

AR1429
Credit: Solar Dynamics Observatory

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) earlier today photographed huge plumes of plasma rising and falling over the limb of the sun (See the video below). Also, Two C category solar flares, a C5 and C7, also erupted creating an enormous magnetic canopy causing waves of ionization to ripple through the high atmosphere. If this continues, sunspot AR1429 may once again create havoc with satellites in orbit which may interfere with satellite communications or damage power grids on Earth but also allow the beautiful green aurora’s near the Earth’s poles.

Credit: Solar Dynamics Observatory

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Two Huge Solar Flares

Two major solar flares erupted March 6th, the most powerful solar eruption this year. Both of these flares are ranked as type X-class storms. X-class is the strongest type of solar flares that the sun can have. Solar flares are ranked by strength using five categories: A, B, C, M and X. The ranking system (similar to the Richter) so that category is 10 times stronger than the one before it. A B-class will be 10 times stronger than an A-class, a C-class would be 100 times stronger than A-class, etc. The categories are also broken down into subsets, ranging from 1 to 9, to pinpoint a solar flare’s strength. Only the X-class solar flares have subcategories that go higher than 9.

The first solar flare was an X5.4-class flare after erupting at 0002 March 7 GMT and the second one occurred about and hour later and was an X1.3. The X5.4 solar flare erupted from the giant active sunspot AR1429, which also was responsible for the major sun storm earlier this week. Earlier this week, several M-class and C-Class eruptions had been noted. Prior to this week’s eruptions, an X-class eruption occurred on January 27, 2012 with a ranking of X1.7.

x-class solar flare


CREDIT: NASA/SDO

In the image above, the solar flare is the brightest spot at the upper left.
Several of the sun-watching observatories noted the huge clouds of charged particles called coronal mass ejections (CME’s) erupting from the solar flares. Data from the Stereo-B spacecraft is not sufficient to determine if the cloud is heading directly for Earth but most likely not, but a glancing blow to the Earth’s Magnetosphere is possible on March 8th or 9th.

If any X-class solar flares were aimed directly at the Earth, the X-class solar flares can endanger astronauts in the International Space Station. They can create havoc with satellites in orbit which may interfere with satellite communications and major problem could be to damage with power grids on Earth.

The Sun is currently in an active phase of its 11-year weather cycle. The current cycle is known as Solar Cycle 24 and is expected to reach its peak level of activity in 2013.

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