NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, has sent back pictures of a massive, X-class solar flare. The X-class flares are the strongest, and this one received an X2.7 rating. It wasn’t pointed at us, and there was no notable harm done, but there was a brief radio blackout (and a burst of static) over the Pacific Ocean and western North America.
NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, which watches the sun constantly, captured these images of a significant solar flare – as seen in the bright flash on the left – peaking at 6:11 p.m. EDT on May 5, 2015.
Each image shows a different wavelength of extreme ultraviolet light that highlights a different temperature of material on the sun. By comparing different images, scientists can better understand the movement of solar matter and energy during a flare. From left to right, the wavelengths are: visible light, 171 angstroms, 304 angstroms, 193 angstroms and 131 angstroms. Each wavelength has been colorized.
Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation. 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. This flare is classified as an X2.7-class flare. 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, and so on.
This flare follows news of a presentation (PDF) from the Space Weather Workshop that there is evidence for a phenomenon known as a “superflare”, which can be up to a thousand times stronger than the flares we routinely see. Such behavior is seen in other stars, and may be expected from the Sun once every 10,000 years, on average.