An X-class solar flare that erupted from the sun on 29 March has earned its place in history as the best-observed event of its type in history.
The eruption was recorded by four different spacecraft managed by NASA, as well as one team of researchers on the ground. Never before have so many astronomers observed a flare like this one as it developed.
"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," Jonathan Cirtain from NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, said.
The protuberance erupted from the right side of the sun, as seen from Earth.
Orbiting observatories witness to the eruption included the Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, or IRIS, as well as the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). The Reuven Ramaty High Energy Solar Spectroscopic Imager and Japan's Hinode observatory both had their telescopes aimed at the prominence as it occurred. On the ground, astronomers at the National Solar Observatory's Dunn Solar Telescope in New Mexico kept a close watch on the power burst. Several other observatories around the world watched the event as a mass of gas and charged particles erupted from the surface of the sun.
Solar flares are classified according to how much energy was released during the event. The most powerful of these, like the eruption that occurred in March, are known as X-class flares.
This was the first X-class flare ever witnessed by the IRIS observatory. The space-based telescope was launched in June 2013 to observe our stellar companion. This craft conducts detailed studies of the chromosphere of the sun, where flares form.
Flares are not usually dangerous to people on Earth. However, they can cause interruptions and outages to electrical and communications systems. Researchers hope that by better understanding these phenomenon, societies will become better-equipped to handle these situations when they happen.
Active regions of the sun's chromosphere are the most likely places for flares to occur. One of these was seen by the Dunn Solar Telescope, which allowed astronomer Lucia Kleint to suggest to colleagues they start watching the area as well. Researchers were well paid-off for their troubles when this magnificent prominence rose from the surface of our stellar companion.
NASA has released a video, showing the evolution of the flare, as seen through the observatories that witnessed the event.