Spectacular solar flare erupts from the sun
The M-class flare on Sunday didn't erupt in the direction of Earth, but if it had, it could've amplified the planet's northern lights displays.
Wed, Aug 27, 2014 at 09:29 AM
A moderate flare erupted on the sun, Aug. 24, 2014, shown in this image showing light in the 131 and 171 Angstrom wavelengths. The shorter wavelength, normally colorized in teal, highlights the extremely hot material of a flare. (Photo: NASA/SDO)
The sun kicked off this week with an explosive solar flare that, while not aimed directly at Earth, may be a hotspot to watch over the next few days.
The solar flare erupted on Sunday morning (Aug. 24) from an active sunspot known as AR2151. Two sun-watching spacecraft captured stunning video of Sunday's solar flare as it leapt off the surface of the sun at 8:16 a.m. EDT (1216 GMT).
While sunpost AR2151 wasn't facing Earth at the time of the flare, it is a place to watch in the days and weeks ahead. "The responsible sunspot will turn toward Earth in the days ahead, boosting chances for geoeffective solar activity as the week unfolds," experts with the space weather website Spaceweather.com wrote on Sunday.
Sunday's flare was an intense M5.6 solar eruption on the scale used by scientists to measure space weather events. M-class storms are about 10 times weaker than X-class flares, the most powerful storms on the sun, NASA spokeswoman Karen Fox wrote in a statement.
"Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation," Fox added. "Harmful radiation from a flare cannot pass through Earth's atmosphere to physically affect humans on the ground, however — when intense enough — they can disturb the atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communications signals travel."
When aimed at Earth, M-class solar flares can amplify the planet's northern lights displays, causing amazing aurora views for observers at high latitudes. Earth-directed X flares, meanwhile, can pose a danger to astronauts in space, as well as interfere with satellite communications and navigation systems.
The Sunday solar flare was captured on video by NASA's powerful Solar Dynamics Observatory and the Solar Helospheric Observatory (SOHO) overseen by NASA and the European Space Agency. The two space observatories are part of a fleet of spacecraft keeping a close eye on the sun's space weather events.
The sun's activity rises and falls on a 11-year space weather cycle. The current cycle is known as Solar Cycle 24.
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