Image of the latest powerful X-class solar flare. Credit: NASA/GSFC/SDO

The Sun Unleashed a Massive X-Class Solar Flare, Here’s What We Know

Astronomers recorded a powerful X-class solar flare during the latest peak of solar activity on October 28. The resulting coronal mass ejection could interfere with satellite-based communications on Earth when it reaches the planet this weekend.

Scientists recorded a powerful X-class solar flare on Thursday during the strongest storm of the new solar cycle which began in December 2019. In total, astronomers detected 28 flares of varying degrees of strength in just two days. As a result of the powerful outburst of X-rays, there was a short outage of radio communications over the Atlantic Ocean.


What is a solar flare?

Solar flares are an explosive process of energy release in the upper layers of the Sun. Flares are often accompanied by coronal mass ejections, that is, the emission of plasma streams, but these phenomena are far from always associated. During a flare, the luminosity of the Sun in the short-wave part of the spectrum, for example in X-rays, can increase significantly relative to values ​​in a quiet state. At the same time, the energy release of even the most powerful flares is significantly lower than the total luminosity of the star in all ranges.

Extreme ultraviolet images of the Sun's disk from 1996 to 2015. Credit: SOHO (ESA & NASA)
Extreme ultraviolet images of the Sun’s disk from 1996 to 2015. Credit: SOHO (ESA & NASA)

It is believed that the source of energy for flares is the reconnection of magnetic lines in the sun’s corona – a sharp change in the configuration of the magnetic field, in which its energy is converted into other forms. This is confirmed by the usual proximity of flares to sunspots, where the magnitude of the magnetic field is much greater than in other regions, and the geometry of its lines of force can be confusing.

Solar flare classes

According to the international classification, X-class solar flares are the strongest. At the same time, the weakest flares are designated as A-class, followed by B, C, M, and X. As in the Richter scale for earthquakes, each letter denotes a 10-fold increase in flash energy.

As a result, the current X-Class solar flare is ten times stronger than the M-class and 100 times the size of the C-class flash. Moreover, each letter class has a finer scale from 1 to 9 although there have been rare cases of extremely powerful flares like the X28 one from November 2003.

Coronal mass ejection that ocurred on December 2, 2003. Credit: SOHO (ESA & NASA)
Coronal mass ejection that ocurred on December 2, 2003. Credit: SOHO (ESA & NASA)

A powerful X-class solar flare occurred on Thursday

Observatories around the world announced the detection of a powerful X-class solar flare on Thursday. It occurred from a sunspot at the center of the sun towards our planet called AR2887. Reports claim that the whole event lasted 31 minutes.

On the strength scale, the latest solar flare was X1.5 which is not powerful enough to impact us on Earth but it did cause a short outage over the Atlantic Ocean.

A compilation of images from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory from the X-Class solar flare event on Thursday. Credit: NASA/SDO and the AIA, EVE, and HMI science teams
A compilation of images from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory from the X-Class solar flare event on Thursday. Credit: NASA/SDO and the AIA, EVE, and HMI science teams

Solar Orbiter

Solar Orbiter was launched into space on February 10, 2020. For nine years, it will study coronal mass ejections, the formation of prominences, determine the magnetic field strength in active regions of the equatorial belt of the Sun, study the stellar corona, and the mechanisms of solar wind acceleration.

Moreover, it will be the first spacecraft to observe the polar regions of the Sun and obtain their full direct images. To carry out scientific tasks, the station is equipped with a set of ten scientific instruments, most of which are covered under a multilayer sun shield.

The first-ever images of the sun taken by the Solar Orbiter. Credit: Solar Orbiter / EUI Team (ESA & NASA); CSL, IAS, MPS, PMOD / WRC, ROB, UCL / MSSL
The first-ever images of the sun taken by the Solar Orbiter. Credit: Solar Orbiter / EUI Team (ESA & NASA); CSL, IAS, MPS, PMOD / WRC, ROB, UCL / MSSL

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Sources:

Kooser, A. (2021, October 28). Watch the sun spit out a whopper X1 solar flare that could fuel Halloween aurora lights. CNET.
Mack, E. (2021, October 28). ‘impressive,’ powerful solar flare could lead to auroras this weekend. Forbes. sh=2df10bd06d98.
Malik, T. (2021, October 28). Sun fires off major solar flare from Earth-facing sunspot. Space.com.
Phys.org. (2021, October 28). Sun releases significant Solar Flare.
Tran, L. (2021, October 28). Sun releases significant Solar Flare. NASA.

Written by Vladislav Tchakarov

Hello, my name is Vladislav and I am glad to have you here on Curiosmos. As a history student, I have a strong passion for history and science, and the opportunity to research and write in this field on a daily basis is a dream come true.

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