NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), which is tasked to keep a constant eye on the happenings on the solar surface, captured the image of a moderate solar flare erupting on the evening of May 3rd, the space agency said on its website.
Solar flares are bursts of energy that are released from the solar surface. Not all bursts are the same and are classified on the basis of the energy released from them, with Class A being the least powerful and Class X being the most powerful. Between them are classes B, C, and M, each one ten times more powerful than the previous class.
Solar flares and radio blackouts
Electromagnetic radiation that erupts during a solar flare can last from a few minutes to hours, Space Weather Prediction Center (SPWC) states on its website. Since the electromagnetic outburst travels at the speed of light, it affects the sunlit part of the Earth immediately after the event has occurred.
The high levels of X-rays and ultraviolet (UV) radiation in solar flares interact with the upper layers of the Earth's atmosphere and ionize them. The upper layers of the atmosphere are used to refract high-frequency (HF) radio waves typically used in navigation systems and radio communication. When these radio waves meet highly ionized layers of the atmosphere, they lose their energy due to the frequency of collisions, resulting in their degradation or complete absorption. This leads to a radio blackout during the period when the upper layers of the atmosphere stay ionized.
Radio blackouts are also classified on the basis of their intensities, ranging from R1 to R5 extreme.
The solar flares on May 3rd
As we mentioned earlier during our coverage, the Sun is currently in an active phase of its solar cycle and has been sending out solar flares over the last month.
On May 3rd, it sent out a Class M flare at 8:19 pm ET, which was captured by NASA's SDO and its image widely shared. Less than an hour later, there was a more powerful flare, an X-class flare that erupted from the solar surface, causing an R3 level radio blackout over the Atlantic Ocean region, which was sunlit, around this time.
The SWPC predicted radio blackouts of up to an hour following this flare, which was about the same strength as the one that hit Asia and Australia during the Easter weekend last month.