Tuesday, February 15, 2011

X-Flare, The Largest Type On The Solar Flare Richter Scale, Headed Towards Earth

FIRST X-FLARE OF THE NEW SOLAR CYCLE: Sunspot 1158 has unleashed the strongest solar flare in more than four years. The eruption, which peaked at 0156 UT on Feb. 15th, registered X2 on the Richter scale of solar flares. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory recorded an intense flash of extreme ultraviolet radiation, circled below:

movie formats: 5 MB gif1.3 MB iPad0.6 MB iPhone
X-flares are the strongest type of solar flare, and this is the first such eruption of new Solar Cycle 24. In addition to flashing Earth with UV radiation, the explosion also hurled a coronal mass ejection (CME) in our direction. The expanding cloud may be seen in this movie from NASA's STEREO-B spacecraft. Geomagnetic storms are possible when the CME arrives 36 to 48 hours hence. Stay tuned for updates.
The Classification of X-ray Solar Flares
or "Solar Flare Alphabet Soup"
A solar flare is an explosion on the Sun that happens when energy stored in twisted magnetic fields (usually above sunspots) is suddenly released. Flares produce a burst of radiation across the electromagnetic spectrum, from radio waves to x-rays and gamma-rays. [more information]
Scientists classify solar flares according to their x-ray brightness in the wavelength range 1 to 8 Angstroms. There are 3 categories: X-class flares are big; they are major events that can trigger planet-wide radio blackouts and long-lasting radiation storms. M-class flares are medium-sized; they can cause brief radio blackouts that affect Earth's polar regions. Minor radiation storms sometimes follow an M-class flare. Compared to X- and M-class events, C-class flares are small with few noticeable consequences here on Earth.
This figure shows a series of solar flares detected by NOAA satellites in July 2000:


Each category for x-ray flares has nine subdivisions ranging from, e.g., C1 to C9, M1 to M9, and X1 to X9. In this figure, the three indicated flares registered (from left to right) X2, M5, and X6. The X6 flare triggered a radiation storm around Earth nicknamed the Bastille Day event.

Peak (W/m2)between 1 and 8 Angstroms

 I < 10-6

 10-6 < = I < 10-5

 10-5 < = I < 10-4

 I > = 10-4

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