Sun Erupts With Powerful Earth-Aimed Solar Flare

Solar Flare
At 1:46 p.m. ET (17:46 UT) on Wednesday, the sun reminded the solar system that it hasn’t finished with solar maximum quite yet — it unleashed a powerful solar flare and aimed it right at Earth.

The flare, which ranks in its most powerful class of eruptions, topped-out at X1.6 and orbiting space weather observatories, including NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (above), were able to record the event.

The X-class flare originated from an active region that is directly facing Earth, so it affected radio communications in the upper atmosphere of our planet, though its scope was fairly limited. “Impacts to HF (high frequency) radio communications on the daylight side of Earth lasted for a little more than an hour,” the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center wrote in a bulletin.

When the radiation from a powerful X-class flare impacts the Earth’s ionosphere, X-ray and extreme-ultraviolet (EUV) light can dramatically alter the ionization state of this region of the atmosphere. Radio waves that are used for global communications can be disrupted and other frequencies can suffer interference. It is worth noting, however, that our biosphere is affected very little as the atmosphere absorbs most of the flare’s energy.

According to, NASA officials said that the International Space Station astronauts and cosmonauts were also not at risk from the flare’s radiation.

This particular flare was spawned by active region (AR) 2158 that unleashed another, albeit weaker, flare on Tuesday. That flare measured M4 on the ‘Richter Scale’ of solar flares — it was therefore a mid-power eruption.

Solar flares are triggered when twisted magnetic field lines are forced together in the sun’s lower corona (the solar atmosphere). These loops of magnetized plasma can snap and ‘reconnect,’ releasing immense quantities of energy. A solar flare is the embodiment of this energy release.

Active regions are associated with sunspot activity that intensifies during solar maximum — the period during the sun’s 11-year solar cycle when activity peaks. The sun is currently winding down from Solar Cycle 24′s maximum, but it appears it hasn’t finished erupting quite yet.

Often flares are associated with the release of coronal mass ejections — bubbles of magnetized plasma that are accelerated across interplanetary space — but space weather scientists will have to wait and see before we find out whether there’s a CME racing in our direction.