A sunspot 4 times the size of Earth let out a 10-million-degree-solar flare

It caused a brief radio blackout over the Pacific.
Ameya Paleja
Solar flare
Solar flare


Solar scientists had been observing a sunspot that grew to four times the size of our planet and then let out a solar flare estimated to be 18 million degrees Fahrenheit (10 million degrees Celsius) earlier this week, Newsweek reported.

Solar flares occur when regions on the sun's surface become highly magnetized, preventing the normal convection process. This cools down the surface temperature in comparison to other regions and is visible from the Earth as a darker patch called a sunspot.

Scientists study sunspots to gauge what is happening on the Sun and have found that the star in our solar system undergoes an 11-year cycle where its magnetic poles flip. During this period, the Sun reaches a solar maximum which is marked by a high number of sunspots and increased solar activity. Currently, the Sun is in Solar cycle 25, which is expected to peak around July 2025.

Sunspot AR3098

One such sunspot appeared about a week ago and was dubbed by solar scientists as AR3098, in line with how other sunspots are named. During this period of time, the sunspot kept getting bigger and bigger until it occupied an area that could accommodate four Earths.

Looking at its activity, scientists were certain that it would give off a solar flare - when a sunspot sends out large amounts of radiation, if not a coronal mass ejection, the phenomenon where it sends out highly charged particles as well.

On September 12, AR3098, while facing the Earth, did send out a big flare which a solar astronomer tweeted about.

The impact of the flare

As the astronomer noted, the sunspot sent out an M-class flare, which is considered a moderate energy flare. There are other classes of solar flares, such as A, B, and C, which are low intensity, while X-class flares are of the highest intensity.

The solar activity website, Spaceweatherlive.com, had predicted that there was a five percent chance that the sunspot would give out an X-class flare, Newsweek said in its report. Earlier this year, an X-class solar flare was sent toward the Earth during the Easter weekend.

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The moderate intensity flare did cause a brief radio blackout over the Pacific region, which was confirmed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Space Weather Prediction Center later that day.

Apart from radio blackouts, solar flares are also known to interact with the upper layers of the Earth's atmosphere and lead to brilliant auroras. The higher the intensity of the flare, the brighter the aurora and their expanse.

Solar scientists are now bracing for the activity of sunspot AR3088, which was visible from the Earth but turned away as the Sun rotated. Last week, it sent out a powerful flare toward Venus, and as the Sun completes its rotation, the sunspot will directly face the Earth.

Only the Sun knows what will happen next.

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