A powerful solar flare is heading towards Earth, and radio blackouts are possible

It really rocked the solar system
Ameya Paleja
Solar flare solar flare

A massive solar flare has erupted from the Sun, which could see radio blackouts in many parts of the world, a space weather physicist has tweeted.

With the Sun now in an active phase of its 11-year solar cycle, incidents such as these are expected to increase. Earlier this week, astronomers were on the lookout for activity arising out of sunspot AR3038. However, it is a new region AR3058 that erupted early and carries a risk of X-class flare.

How bad can solar flares be?

Solar flares are strong localized electromagnetic eruptions on the surface of the sun. Depending on the strength of the eruption, solar flares are classified into classes, A, B, C, M, and X, with A being the least powerful while X being the most powerful.

When these flares erupt, packed within them are intense bursts of energy and radiation that would have been harmful to the Earth’s inhabitants if not for the envelope of the atmosphere that surrounds us. However, the high amounts of energy transferred to the atmosphere during this interaction with the flare ionize the upper layers of the atmosphere, which is used for radio communication leading to a loss of signal.

The recent flare is directed towards the Earth and is expected to cause significant blackouts to GPS navigation systems, which could end up disrupting journeys for small aircraft and ships. Ham radio or amateur radio operators will face some disruptions due to this solar flare, which has a 10 percent chance of being an X-class solar event. Astronomers are not yet sure if the flare was also accompanied by a coronal mass ejection (CME), which could result in a geomagnetic storm in a couple of days.

Memories of Bastille Day

The timing of the solar flare brings back memories of another solar flare that erupted on July 14, 2000, and is remembered as the Bastille Day event since it coincided with France’s national day.

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The CME that accompanied this solar flare was received a day later and saw auroras flash in the night sky in the U.S., whereas, in some areas, it appeared as if the sky was on fire, a report for Spaceweatherarchive.com said. By the time the geomagnetic storm subsided, auroras had been seen in Texas, Florida, and Mexico.

The event is also special for astronomers as it was the first major event after the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) was launched, and researchers caught a glimpse from up close as to what really happens on the solar surface during a solar flare.

The event is studied to date by astronomers who have estimated that it carried 1033 ergs of magnetic energy, the equivalent of a thousand billion atomic bombs used during World War II.

The impact of the flares was observed even by the Voyager spacecraft as they continued on their journeys far away from the Sun.

With the Sun now slowly approaching the peak of its solar cycle, could we witness another Bastille Day event? Only time will tell.

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