A super-powerful, X-class solar flare has been spotted by scientists and has been described as the largest eruption on the Sun seen so far in 2014.
The eruption is measured as a X4.9 flare, where the letter denotes the most powerful type of event, while the number states this occurrence was nearly five times as powerful as a X1 flare. This was spotted on 24 February at 7:49 p.m. EST. It erupted from the surface of the southeastern limb of our star at 4.4 million miles per hours. A knot of plasma was left behind in the wake of the flare.
Solar flares are eruptions on the surface of the Sun, which emit large quantities of radiation and light. This one was recorded by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). The space-based telescope was launched in 2010, and it keeps constant watch on our companion star. By watching the Sun over a wide range of wavelengths, the SDO can record how particles and heat move, as they travel from the center to the surface of the star.
The Earth's magnetic field protects us from the effects of most solar flares. It does this by bending charged particles around the center of the Earth, and toward the poles. There, the particles can create the northern and southern lights. High-flying satellites can, however, still be affected by the flares.
The most powerful flares can sometimes reach the surface of the Earth, where they can cause disruptions to the power grid and communications.
As magnetic fields deep within the Sun rise, they reach the surface, where they break. This releases vast amounts of radiation, producing a sunspot. These are often accompanied by the ejection of gases.
The underlying causes of flares and coronal mass ejections (CME's) are among the greatest mysteries of the universe. Most usually take place during periods of increased sunspot activity every 11 years. The current solar maximum, ending now, did not produce many such features. This particular flare was formed near sunspot AR1967, which was making its third trip around the Sun.
When flares are powerful enough, they can break through the protective magnetic field of the Earth.
This current flare, although visible from Earth, is not headed toward our planet. It was still powerful enough to cause some radio blackouts on our home world.
"Although impressive, the source of this event is well off the Sun-Earth line so the coronal mass ejection (CME) associated with this event should not be headed directly at Earth," National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (or NOAA) reported on Facebook.
On 8 January, Orbital Sciences re-scheduled a space launch due to a flare. An M-class flare was spotted twenty days later. That is the second-strongest category of flare after X-class.