Eight powerful solar flares hit Earth yesterday, more expected today

There are 11 sunspots currently active on the Solar disc currently facing our planet.
Ameya Paleja

Aviators and mariners faced frequent radio blackouts on Wednesday, December 14th, as the sun sent at least eight solar flares toward our planet, Spaceweather.com reported. Powerful solar flares will likely hit Earth today as well, forecasts suggest.

After weeks of relatively lesser activity, the sun seems to be springing back into action and unleashed a barrage of eight solar flares on Wednesday. A solar flare is a burst of electromagnetic radiation that emanates from regions of strong magnetic fields on the solar surface.

These fields are strong enough to halt temporarily halt convection in the areas where they are active. As a result, the region cools down and appears darker when viewed from the Earth. Scientists call them sunspots which can remain dormant for some period or burst open, releasing intense amounts of radiation and energy.

Classes of solar flares

Depending on the energy released during such outbursts, scientists classify solar flares into five categories. Classes A, B, and C belong to the lower energy spectrum, while Class M is used for a flare of moderate intensity. Class X flares are the most powerful flares and were sent out during the Easter weekend, earlier this year.

Since solar flares are composed of radiation, they travel at the speed of light and reach Earth almost immediately after they are released. On the other hand, the outburst can sometimes also include particulate matter from the sun. This is referred to as coronal mass ejection (CME), which can take up to three days to travel to the Earth.

Luckily for us, the atmospheric blanket around our planet protects us from both solar flares and CMEs. The intense energy received, however, disrupts the communication that is being relayed through the atmosphere and is the reason for radio blackouts after such events.

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Objects such as satellites and spacecraft that are deployed in areas of little or no environment face the wrath of solar outbursts. As the world we live in today is heavily reliant on these technologies, scientists are looking to predict these events as accurately as possible so that spacecraft can take evasive actions.

Sunspot AR3165

The recent burst of activity has come from a sunspot referred to by scientists as Sunspot AR3165. A fast-growing sunspot, AR3165 gave off eight solar flares yesterday, all belonging to the Class M of flares. Over the course of the day, the flares appeared to be getting bigger and more intense, and solar physicists think that a Class X flare might even be in the offing.

Many of these flares also turned into CMEs but the preliminary data about them shows that they are all likely to miss our planet, Spaceweather.com said in its report. As per the Met Office in the U.K., there is a slight chance that one of these CMEs might just interact with the Earth on December 18th.

Apart from AR3165, another sunspot referred to as AR3163 has an unstable magnetic field, is facing the Earth, and could also send out Class M flares today. In all, there are 11 sunspots crossing the face of the sun, and the Space Weather Prediction Center at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the U.S. forecasts that there is a 75 percent chance of Class M flares and a 15 percent chance of Class X-flares occurring today.

So, if you rely on satellites for navigation or communication purposes, be ready for some disruptions today.