"Cannibal" solar flares just hit Earth at nearly 2 million mph

The flare brought about a temporary shortwave radio blackout.
Ameya Paleja
NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory captured this image of a solar flare on March 30, 2022. NASA

Astronomers have spotted as many as 17 eruptions from a single spot on Sun; and two of the flares headed straight towards the Earth at nearly 2 million miles an hour, Live Science reported

Coronal mass ejections (CMEs) or solar flares are a well-documented phenomenon and are critical in understanding what happens on the Sun. Astronomers are also keen to keep an eye on them since a major eruption has the potential to create blackouts and take down the communication systems in a matter of seconds. Just last month, SpaceX lost 40 satellites to a geomagnetic storm, a few hours after the launch.

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Cannibal solar flares

According to the Live Science report, a sunspot dubbed AR2975 has been rather active since the beginning of this week. Sunspots are known for their strong magnetic fields that suddenly snap and burst out radiation that we call solar flares. 

Usually, a solar flare takes about 15 to 18 hours to reach the Earth. Of the 17 eruptions that astronomers have identified from this spot, two of them headed towards the Earth. However, their varied speeds saw a fast-moving flare that erupted later overtake a relatively slower flare and gobbled up the radiation, and produced a wave that is stronger, resulting in a powerful solar storm. 

The second wave thus cannibalized the first one and hit Earth's atmosphere at 11 pm ET on March 30 at speeds of 1,881, 263 mph (3,027,599 kph), causing a shortwave radio blackout.

Northern Lights in the south U.S.

While the magnetic storm was not expected to cause communication issues, it clashed with the upper layers of our atmosphere and generated a beautiful natural display of lights in the night sky that are usually called Northern Lights. 

While these lights were visible from the northern states, the expected powerful impact of these flares was likely to make them visible from the southern states of Pennsylvania, Iowa, and Oregon as well. 

This also makes for a great time for NASA to send up the two sounding rockets that have been ready to probe the Northern Lights.  

Either way, it is a great night for science and also a time to be thankful for the upper atmosphere that shields us from harm.  

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