Intense Solar Flare May Disturb Earth Geomagnetic Weather

Solar flares captured under different wave lengths by the NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory. | Image by NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory, Goddard's Scientific Visualization Studio

The sun released a significant solar flare toward Earth on Thursday, October 28, 2021, that could cause disturbances in the planet’s geomagnetic weather, potentially interfering with high-frequency communications.

The sun’s surface is an active environment. It has electrically charged gases that generate strong magnetic forces. These are referred to as magnetic fields.

The sun’s gases are perpetually in movement, entangling, extending, and distorting the magnetic fields. This movement creates a lot of activity on the sun’s surface, known as solar activity. The amount of solar activity varies with the stages of the solar cycle. Sometimes the sun’s surface is very active.

Solar activity can have effects here on Earth, such as potentially interfering with high-frequency communications, so scientists monitor solar activity closely every day.

According to VOA, “The bursts of radiation often head toward Earth, and while harmful radiation from a flare cannot pass through Earth’s atmosphere to physically affect humans, if they are strong enough, they can disturb the atmosphere in the layer where GPS and other communications signals travel.”

A solar flare can cause disturbances such as geomagnetic storms. A geomagnetic storm is a phenomenon linked to variations in solar activity, which results in sudden and intense fluctuations in the Earth’s magnetism. These fluctuations can be reflected in the Earth’s ionosphere, creating, for example, polar auroras.

Solar flares are classified with letters ranging between A, B, C, M, and X. This week’s eruption was an X1, the most intense class of solar flares.

X1 flares are the most intense X-class eruptions and are regarded as being exceptionally strong. Two other flares included an eruption of solar material called a coronal mass ejection, causing an invisible swarm of solar energetic particles to be flung toward Earth.

The eruption was also the second X-class flare in Solar Cycle 25, which started in December 2019. The solar cycle or solar magnetic activity cycle is an approximately periodic 11-year variation in the sun’s activity, expressed in terms of observed changes in the number of sunspots on the sun’s surface. Sunspots have been observed since the early 17th century.

Learn more about Solar Flares here: https://spaceplace.nasa.gov/solar-activity/en/

Learn more about Geomagnetic Storms: https://www.swpc.noaa.gov/phenomena/geomagnetic-storms

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