A hyperactive sunspot to result in solar flares

The effects of solar activity are predicted to reach the Earth's atmosphere by December 8.
Jijo Malayil
Looking like a crooked frown, SDO captured this image of a solar filament stretching across the lower half of the sun on Feb. 10, 2015
Looking like a crooked frown, SDO captured this image of a solar filament stretching across the lower half of the sun on Feb. 10, 2015


The Earth is all set to experience another set of solar flares, which is estimated to reach our atmosphere by December 8. After a relatively calmer period of solar activity, we are about to experience a high-velocity gush of solar winds and minor geomagnetic storms. The intensity of the storm expected is classified as G1, the least intense solar storm. 

Images taken of the Sun on December 4 by Eduardo Schaberger Poupeau, an astrophotographer, revealed five significant sunspots and two filaments of magnetism facing Earth. "In the southeast limb, we see an extensive prominence, also in the southern hemisphere, but within the disk, we can see the active region AR3153 that contains sunspots of a significant size, we also see a very extensive filament," Poupeau told Spaceweather.com. 

According to Nasa, a solar flare is described as an "intense burst of radiation coming from the release of magnetic energy associated with sunspots." It is considered to be the largest explosive event in our solar system. "They are seen as bright areas in the sun and they can last from minutes to hours."

Do all solar flares reach Earth? 

The activity on the solar surface impacts earth only when it takes place on the side of the sun facing Earth. Since the flares are made of photons, their visibility can lead to direct impact. 

The cause of such flares can be attributed to sunspots, "which are dark areas on the solar surface, contain strong magnetic fields that are constantly shifting". When these fields quickly dissipate their stored energy, it can lead to the formation of solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs). For reference, a "moderate-sized sunspot is about as large as the Earth". 

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The Sun is also known to follow an 11-year cycle in which its poles flip, causing a heavy movement of constituent material inside. "Over the last 300 years, the average number of sunspots has regularly waxed and waned" following such cycles. 

Impacts of such events

The impact of activities on the solar surface can result in electrical currents along the Earth’s surface, which can "disrupt electric power grids and contribute to the corrosion of oil and gas pipelines." Geomagnetic storms, which lead to changes in the ionosphere, "interfere with high-frequency radio communications and Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation."

Solar storms are known to last for a few minutes to several hours but the "effects of geomagnetic storms can linger in the Earth’s magnetosphere and atmosphere for days to weeks."