Three solar flares erupted from the sun, headed toward the Earth. The first two exploded from our local star on 10 June, only an hour apart from one another. The third blasted from surface the following day, peaking at 5:06 a.m. EDT.
Each of these flares was classified as class X events, at least 10,000 times more powerful than the "background flares" that erupt from the churning surface of the sun on a regular basis.
This third eruption has the least power of the three events, barely making it into the X-class category, at X1.0. This carries less than half the energy of the first event, designated as an X2.2 flare. The second of the eruptions was measured by astronomers as an X 1.5 occurrence, roughly halfway in power between the first and third events.
Solar flares occur when magnetic lines of force on the sun create sunspots, and then break. This can release vast quantities of electrically-charged particles into space, which can sometimes be aimed toward the Earth. The first pair of eruptions was aligned with the path of our home world.
Earth's magnetic field protects life from the most powerful effects of the waves. Still, these charged particles can adversely affect satellite, GPS and communication systems.
The first wave of particles hit the Earth soon after observation of the flares on 10 June, causing widespread disruption in communications. All high-frequency (HF) systems on the daytime side of Earth went down for around an hour. The third flare, on 11 June, produced an identical effect.
"Solar activity is ticking along at minor to moderate levels... with the potential to throw more significant activity our way," the Space Weather Prediction center reported in a new release.
Each of the three flares emanated from the same areas of the sun, designated as active region 2087. This is located on the "left" side of the sun, as seen from Earth.
A coronal mass ejection (CME) erupted from the sun during the events. These eruptions are much larger than their smaller cousins, sending clouds of gas threaded with magnetic lines of force. When they strike the Earth, they can interact with our planet's magnetic field, creating geomagnetic storms.
The flares are aimed to give Earth a glancing blow on 13 June, but it is material from the CME that could really play havoc, at least for a short time, with communications and satellite systems.
Solar astronomers are keeping a close watch on region 2087, along with other areas of the sun, searching for other potentially troublesome activity.