Continuing its increasingly active trend, the sun erupted with another X-class solar flare on Thursday. Only last week, another active region (AR1515) delivered an impressive parting shot — an X1.1 flare — as it rotated toward the solar limb. Today’s more energetic X1.4 flare, however, was directed right at us.
Today’s fireworks were courtesy of another magnetically dominated active region called AR1520 that has been ominously crackling with flare activity. The active region has produced an impressive and beautiful grouping of sunspots (right).
There’s currently no word about the impact this event on the Earth’s ionosphere, although sudden ionospheric disturbances (SIDs) are highly likely, stemming from strong X-ray radiation, potentially interrupting radio communications. A coronal mass ejection (CME) — an expanding “bubble” of solar plasma and magnetism — has been generated and it is expected to hit Earth on July 14, according to Spaceweather.com. There’s a strong possibility that the CME may produce a geomagnetic storm, culminating in auroral activity at high latitudes.
The uptick in solar activity is all part of the natural 11-year cycle of the sun, which is expected to reach its peak by 2013.
Today’s event is yet another reminder that we live in the realm of a highly dynamic star and with the help of solar observatories like NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), we can look deep into the solar corona where these impressive explosions are generated.
Images: Top: The view through the SDO’s AIA 131A filter, sensitive to superheated plasma of several million degrees Kelvin (Celsius) high in the sun’s corona, minutes after the flare erupted. Middle: Sunspot activity in the sun’s photosphere around AR1520 — using the SDO’s HMI instrument. Bottom: The lower corona as seen by the SDO’s 171A filter, sensitive to plasma that is approximately a million degrees. Credit: SDO/AIA/HMI/NASA