Sun Hurls First X-Class Solar Flare of 2014 (Video)
The Sun is kicking off the new year with a bit of solar activity. It's unleashed the first X-class solar flare of 2014. Peaking at 1:32 p.m. EST on Jan. 7, the solar flare is significant and followed right on the heels of a mid-level flare earlier that day.
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The solar flare was classified as an X-class flare. Like hurricanes, solar flares are classified based on their intensity. The weakest are known as A-class flares, followed by B, then C and M. The strongest solar flares are labeled X-class flares, and can potentially pose a risk to astronauts and satellites in orbit when they're aimed directly at Earth. In order to categorize the strength of these flares within their classes, though, researchers also give them numbers; the higher the number, the stronger the flare is.
Solar flares themselves are powerful bursts of radiation. While harmful radiation from a flare cannot pass through Earth's atmosphere to physically harm or affect humans, they can disturb the atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communications signals travel. This can disrupt radio signals for as long as the flare is ongoing--anywhere from minutes to hours.
In this case, the two flares were centered over a different area of a large sunspot group current situated at the center of the sun. The significant flare was officially classified as a X1.2-class flare and has now been associated with coronal mass ejection (CME), a phenomenon that sends billions of tons of solar particles into space. CMEs can reach other planetary bodies days after the initial burst. Currently, officials are anticipating strong geomagnetic storm conditions to occur on both Jan. 9 and 10 due to this CME.
Want to learn more about solar flares and keep track of space weather? Check out NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center here.
Want to see the solar flare for yourself? Check out the video below, courtesy of YouTube and NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory.