The Sun let out a powerful solar flare causing radio blackouts

The powerful flare caused a radio blackout over South America.
Ameya Paleja
Solar flares
Solar flares

Thomas Faull/iStock 

The Sun sent out a very powerful solar flare in the morning hours of Saturday EST time. NASA's Solar Dynamic Observatory captured a video of the same.

Solar flares are powerful eruptions of electromagnetic radiation from a region of the Sun with an intense magnetic field. This high-intensity magnetic field temporarily stops the convection process on the solar surface, which cools down the region. When observed from a distance, it appears darker than the solar disc and is known as a sunspot.

Sunspots and solar flares

Solar scientists have been looking at sunspots for centuries in a bid to understand our star. From their observations, we now know that the frequency of sunspots increases as the Sun approaches the peak of its solar cycle.

Every 11 years, the Sun flips its poles, a process that sees intense activity on the solar surface and the subsequent release of solar flares. Depending on the intensity of the flare, it is classified into various classes, with A, B, and C used to denote low-intensity flares, while M-class flares have moderate intensity.

X-Class is reserved for high-intensity flares, and on Saturday, an X1.1 class event was observed at 10:48 am EST (1548 GMT). According to the Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) which the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric operate. Administration (NOAA), the flare originated from the sunspot designated AR 3217.

Last week, another active region, 3213, let out an M-class or medium-intensity solar flare, which caused radio blackouts over the Pacific Ocean. This happens because the flares carry intense amounts of energy with them and disrupt the molecules in the upper layers of the atmosphere when they come in contact with them. This leads to a loss of signal for radio communications and navigational systems.

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The higher the intensity of the flare, the greater the disruption caused. The recent event on Saturday caused a radio blackout over South America. As the Sun moves closer to its solar cycle peak, expected in 2025, more solar flares are expected in the near future. According to the SWPC, AR3217 could cause more occasional degradation events in the high frequency (3-30 MHz) communication.

High-intensity solar flares are not all bad, though. Their energy is also responsible for forming auroras, which become visible further away from the poles.

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