The mixed area of sunspots, aimed almost directly at Earth, has just released a large solar flare that could wreak havoc on power and communications networks over the next few days.
NASA Solar Dynamic Observatory (SDO) first discovered an area of sunspots labeled AR3006 (“AR” means “active region”) a few days ago; now the area is near the center of the Sun’s visible disk.
SDO images show that the spot near the center of the region has the opposite magnetic polarity of the surrounding area – meaning that its magnetic field lines are directed in the opposite direction than the field lines near. This discrepancy creates an unusual situation that can cause serious violations called “magnetic reconnections”When areas of different polarity interact.
And now it seems that the interaction has taken place. Detected satellites in Earth orbit a radio burst indicating a Class X1.5 flash exploded with AR3006 shortly before 9 a.m. ET (2:00 p.m. GMT) on Tuesday (May 10). Experts told Live Science that the resulting flash is impressive, though not necessarily so unusual.
It is likely that the outbreak also caused coronal mass ejection (CME), triggering plasma droplets that could strike Earth in the coming days.
There are five classes of solar flares: A, B, C, M and X, according to NASA. Each of them is 10 times stronger than the previous class, and they are followed by a number from 1 to 9, which shows their strength in this class.
But theoretically there are no limits to the power of the largest X-class flares: the most powerful explosive device recorded in 2003 defeated X28 class sensors.
Coronal mass ejection
Jan Janssen, a communications specialist from the Solar-Earth Center of Excellence in Brussels, who coordinates international efforts to observe the sun, called the new solar flare “impressive.”
But “I’m a little surprised by the power of the flash, because it was all about small sunspots,” Janssens told Live Science in an email.
AR3006 is a relatively small area of sunspots that develops in the remnants of the active decay region, but its mixed polarity structure means it is more likely to eject and release energy clots into space, he said.
Solar physicist Dean Pesnell of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, a scientist with the Solar Dynamics Observatory project, said the mixed polarity of the AR 3006 region is not uncommon.
“This happens when twisted magnetic field lines flip under the surface before an eruption,” Pesnell said in an email to Live Science, adding that solar flares also seem more common in regions with such complex magnetic fields.
The solar flare on Tuesday also caused a surge radio waves showing that this was accompanied by coronal mass emission (CME) of superheated plasma from the sun.
CME typically emits billions of tons of stellar material at hundreds of miles per second, according to NOAA Space Weather Forecasting Center.
If the CME material from the last flares hit the Earth in the next few days, it could damage power and communications networks, as well as damage satellites.
At the moment, the area of sunspots is directed almost directly at us, Jansens noted, but any risk of disruption by CME will diminish over the next few days as AR3006 rotates to the western edge of the Sun’s visible disk.
The song explained that determining whether to hit the CME on Earth was a “difficult and interesting calculation” that depended on the location and dynamics of the CME thread. While such events were “clues to how the solar dynamo works,” Pesnell said, “we only see the results of the dynamo, not the real mechanism.”
“It’s like trying to understand the water cycle on Earth by looking only at the top of the clouds and not knowing about the rainfall and oceans below,” he said.
Sunspots are caused by magnetic disturbances in the outer solar layer that expose the slightly colder layer beneath it. Even the average sunspots are larger than the Earth, and the largest can be many times larger.
Although sunspots and solar flares occur more often near the peaks of the 11-year cycle of solar activity, in fact they are the result of a longer 22-year cycle in the polarity of solar magnetic fields.
The Sun’s magnetic fields become entangled when it rotates in space about once every 27 days, according to NASA. At the peak of the solar cycle, about every 11 years, the solar fields become so entangled that the whole star changes its magnetic polarity dramatically – equivalent to how the Earth changes its magnetic poles.
When this happens, the activity of sunspots decreases when the entangled magnetic fields become untangled again until the Sun has almost no spots at the lowest point of the solar activity cycle.
But the cycle begins again when the sun’s magnetic fields begin to get confused again; and therefore it takes 22 years until the magnetic polarity of the Sun becomes the same as before.
Although it may seem that the sun has been very active over the last few months, This was reported earlier that its activity is about the same as during the last solar cycle, and even lower than it was at this time in the two cycles before.
Records of the solar activity cycle began in 1775, and we are currently in the growing phase of the 25th solar cycle; It is expected to peak in late 2024 or early 2025.
Originally published on Live Science.