Sun Hurls 18 Solar Flares and Billions of Particles into Space

First Posted: Oct 29, 2013 08:54 AM EDT

The sun's activity is ramping up some more as it approaches the peak of its 11-year solar cycle. Now, NASA has announced that our sun has released the first significant solar flares since June 2013 earlier this week.

Solar flares are actually powerful bursts of radiation. These radiation bursts, though, cannot pass through Earth's atmosphere to harm humans. They can cause other problems, though; when intense enough, they can disturb the atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communications signals travel. This can cause radio communication blackouts for hours at a time.

In this case, the sun released several solar flares. One of the larger flares was classified as a X1.0 flare, which peaked on Oct. 27. X-class flares are the most intense and the number associated with the flare denotes exactly how strong it is. For example, an X2 flare is twice as intense as an X1 flare. An X3 flare is three times as intense.

The X-class flare was only the beginning, according to NASA. In all, there were three X-class flares and more than 15 additional M-class flares between Oct. 23 and the morning of Oct. 28. In addition, the sun released several coronal mass ejections (CMEs). These solar phenomena can send billions of tons of particles into space that can reach Earth one to three days later.

Currently, NASA is tracking these CMEs, which could impact electronic systems in satellites and on the ground. In fact, experimental research models show that five CMEs, traveling at different speeds, may join up into a single moving cloud of particles.

CMEs don't just impact electronic systems, though. They also can cause a space weather phenomenon called a geomagnetic storm. This occurs when CMEs funnel energy into Earth's magnetic envelope, the magnetosphere, for an extended period of time. The CME's magnetic fields peel back the outermost layers of Earth's fields, changing their very shape. These storms can degrade communication signals and cause unexpected electrical surges in power grids. They can also supercharge the Northern Lights.

Want to learn more about this space weather? Learn more about it here.

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