NASA has released a video of a solar flare erupting on the surface of the sun, calling the event the most completely-observed flare ever, captured by four different spacecrafts and a ground-based observatory.
The X-class flare on March 29 was witnessed by NASA's Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) spacecraft, as well as by other spacecraft including the Hinode instrument operated jointly by NASA and Japan's space agency JAXA, and from a National Solar Observatory telescope located in New Mexico.
Those instruments were designed to make solar observations at specific wavelengths, so an immense amount of detail on the March 29 flare was collected, NASA scientists said.
"This is the most comprehensive data set ever collected by NASA's Heliophysics Systems Observatory," said Jonathan Cirtain, Hinode project scientist NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. "Some of the spacecraft observe the whole sun all the time, but three of the observatories had coordinated in advance to focus on a specific active region of the sun. We need at least a day to program in observation time and the target -- so it was extremely fortunate that we caught this X-class flare."
Solar flares are categorized based on the strength of their release of energy, from A-class, the weakest, though B, C, M and the strongest, the X-class flares.
Each class denotes a flare ten times as strong as the class that precedes it.
Tracking the X-class flare in March, the various observing instruments recorded masses of solar particles ejected from the sun by the flare, in an event known as a coronal mass ejection.
These massive eruptions of charged particles can cause problems if they impact the Earth's upper atmosphere, cascading radiation that can cause damage to satellites, power grids and communications systems and also present a risk to astronauts on the International Space Station.
One such flare on April 24, classed an X1.3 storm, did trigger some temporary blackouts of communications in some regions of the Earth.
This has been a busy year for solar flares, astronomers say, with several X-class events observed. Two X-class flares occurred in February, followed by the March and April events.
Our sun passing through the active phase of its 11-year solar weather cycle, having reached an activity peak in 2013.