Solar Activity Cycle To Peak In 2013: More Powerful Solar Flares Expected Later This Year
By Roxanne Palmer
June 11 2013
A powerful solar flare that arose on Friday is the latest reminder that our sun can be a temperamental force of nature. And we are still not quite sure how bad the consequences would be if it threw an especially violent tantrum.
Solar flares are regular bursts of radiation that can disturb Earth’s atmosphere. They’re often accompanied by coronal mass ejections, where bubbles of magnetic fields and matter – primarily electrons and protons, but with very small traces of elements like helium and oxygen – shoot out of the sun. These particle ejections are more worrisome than the radiation from flares; once trapped in Earth’s magnetic field, they can induce massive electrical currents in the ground below that can flow into power lines.
The recent flare was of middling strength, classified as an M 5.9 flare. Solar flares are classified by the brightness of the X-rays they emit. There is just one class of flare that’s stronger than M-class: X-class. While M-class flares can sometimes cause brief radio blackouts on Earth’s poles – Friday’s flare did cause a moderate one, according to NASA — an X-class flare could potentially cause radio blackouts across the entire world, and create radiation storms in our upper atmosphere, according to the European Space Agency.