The Swedish Solar Telescope Found the Sun's Largest Flare in 12 Years

The Swedish Solar Telescope Found the Sun's Largest Flare in 12 Years

Solar flares occur when the sun's magnetic field - which creates the dark sunspots on the star's surface - twists up and reconnects, blasting energy outward and super-heating the solar surface.

The flare was one of three X-category flares - the largest type of flare - observed over 48 hour period, they said.

Two of the other recent flares were also X-class, including Wednesday's (Sept. 6) X9.3 flare, the strongest solar blast in 12 years. The last X9 flare occurred in 2006 (coming in at X9.0).

"The Sun is now in what we call solar minimum", says Aaron Reid, from Queen's University Belfast's Astrophysics Research Centre.

Like many powerful flares, Sunday's was accompanied by a coronal mass ejection (CME), a huge cloud of superheated solar plasma that races through space at millions of miles per hour.

More news: UN Security Council to Vote on New North Korea Sanctions

The X8, 2-class flare is the capstone of a series of flares from Active Region 2673, which was first identified on August 29 and is rotating from the front of the sun. "These observations can tell us how and why these flares formed so we can better predict them in the future", said Reid.

Since flares spring forth in a matter of minutes, it can be hard to observe the beginning of their formation.

"We can only observe about 1/250th of the solar surface at any one time using the Swedish Solar Telescope, so to be in the right place at the right time requires a lot of luck". These observations can help astronomers better predict solar storms in advance, to help astronauts and organizations prepare for any disruptions.

The team observed these historic events in extremely high detail using the Swedish Solar Telescope in La Palma.

At its peak, the solar flare reached an energy level of X9.3, or nine-times more powerful than an X1 flare, that even at its most average eruption reaches power equivalent to the explosion of billions of hydrogen bombs. "To observe the rise phases of three X-classes over two days is just unheard of". It overloaded all of NASA's solar measurement sensors, which cut out after measuring a flare of X28.

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