A massive explosion on the Sun has unleashed a powerful solar flare from Monday’s new sunspot (January 9), which is slowly rotating towards Earth.
The solar flare erupted at 1:50 p.m. EST (1850 GMT) as an X1.9-class solar storm that caused a temporary but severe radio blackout in parts of South America, Central America and the Pacific Ocean, according to a statement (opens in a new tab) from the US Space Weather Prediction Center at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. X-class flares are the strongest types of solar storms. Monday’s flare came from the same sunspot that fired the X1.2-class solar flare on January 5, NOAA said.
“The source is hyperactive sunspot AR3184,” astronomer Tony Phillips of space weather website SpaceWeather.com wrote in an update. (opens in a new tab). “None of the debris plumes will hit the Earth; the sunspot is not facing our planet. It will turn towards us later this week.”
Related: Rage of the Sun: Here are the worst solar storms in history
NASA captured stunning photos and video of the solar flare (opens in a new tab) with the Solar Dynamics Observatory, a space telescope that constantly observes the Sun at different wavelengths.
Solar flares are intense eruptions from the surface of the Sun that explode at varying levels of power. The weakest flares, classified as A, B or C storms, are usually small. Stronger M-class flares can hurl charged particles to Earth that supercharge our planet’s auroras, enhancing the auroral and southern auroral displays.
Related: Extreme solar storms can strike unexpectedly. Are we prepared?
Direct-to-Earth-directed X-class solar flares “could affect radio communications, power grids, navigational signals and pose a hazard to spacecraft and astronauts,” NASA said in a statement (opens in a new tab).
The sun is currently in the active phase of its 11-year solar weather cycle. The current phase is known as Solar Cycle 25, which is expected to peak in 2025.
NASA tracks solar flares and other space weather events by observing the sun with various spacecraft. In addition to the Solar Dynamics Observatory, the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory or SOHO (a joint mission of NASA and the European Space Agency) also observes space weather events on a regular basis.
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