Dangerous Sunspot has just hurled a huge solar flare onto Earth

A sunspot has slammed over 16 powerful solar flares toward Earth in the past two days, causing radio blackouts over the Atlantic. The sunspot faces our planet at an angle, meaning most of the effects of its activity missed our planet, but experts warn an even more dangerous spot is staring straight at us.

“It’s been an exciting few days,” The Sun Today: Solar Facts and Space Weather said in a Facebook post about recent activity.

“My phone gets notifications every time [solar flares] happen…it was just non-stop,” said one user. “Those two days were wild.”

Satellite image of the solar flare
An image of the Sun’s surface taken by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft. A series of 16 solar flares in the past 48 hours has caused radio blackouts on Earth.
SDO AND THE AIA, EVE AND HMI/NASA SCIENTIFIC TEAMS

Sunspots are dark areas on the sun’s surface where the magnetic field is particularly strong. The magnetic field lines near these points can become entangled, resulting in a sudden release of energy, often in the form of a solar flare.

Solar flares are ejections of electromagnetic radiation, mostly in the form of X-rays, and are classified according to their magnitude.

“The weakest are the A-class flares, followed by the intensity of the B-class, C-class, M-class – these are ‘moderate’ – and the X-class,” said Gonzalo José Carracedo Carballal, an astrophysics researcher at Instituto Nacional de Técnica in Madrid, previously said news week.

Jesse Woodroffe, a program scientist in the Heliophysics Division at NASA Headquarters, previously said news week that a solar flare is about a million times more powerful than an atomic bomb. However, this energy is distributed across space and time, and Earth’s atmosphere protects us from most of the radiation that hits our planet.

Solar activity has seen an unusually high number of M-class flares from region AR3165 over the past two days, causing interference to radio signals.

“[M5-class flares are] quite severe,” said Huw Morgan, head of the Department of Solar System Physics at Aberystwyth University in the UK, previously news week. “It’s a bit like the ‘gale force’ scale for earth winds. An M-class flare is ten times as intense as the next lower C-class scale.”

Solar flare near Earth
An image showing a solar flare hurtling toward Earth. A dangerous sunspot, AR3163, is staring straight at us and showing signs of magnetic entanglement.
Pitris/Getty

The most powerful flares are the X-class flares, which can cause planet-wide radio outages on Earth. SpaceWeatherLive.com, which tracks solar activity in real time, has said there is a 10 percent chance of one of these powerful X-class flares from AR3165 today, and a 45 percent chance of more M flares.

But another sunspot in region 3163 is also a cause for concern. Unlike AR3165, which is facing Earth at an angle, AR3163 is pointing straight at us and also has a 10 percent chance of generating a Class X flare.

Magnetic imaging of AR3163 shows that magnetic fields are beginning to entangle within the patch, which could result in a large release of energy towards our planet.

AR3163 has remained quiet for now, but will continue to face Earth for the next few days.

Do you have a tip on a science story that news week should cover? Have a question about solar flares? Let us know at science@newsweek.com.

https://www.newsweek.com/newsweek-com-dangerous-sunspot-huge-solar-flare-hurtling-towards-earth-1767618 Dangerous Sunspot has just hurled a huge solar flare onto Earth

Rick Schindler

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