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The strongest solar flare detected just before Lunar New Year

2024.02.28 19:49:39 Yunji Heo

[Image of a solar flare, Credit to Pxhere]

A massive X-class solar flare, possibly the strongest flare since 2017, was spotted an hour before Lunar New Year.


The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) reported that it was struck by the Solar Dynamics Observatory, a spacecraft that observes the sun constantly as it orbits Earth, at 8:14 a.m. EST on February 9th, 2024.


Solar flares are intense bursts of radiation derived from the emission of magnetic energy.


They travel at the speed of light, taking just 8 minutes to reach the Earth.


Astronomers classify solar flares based on their X-ray energy using four different letters: B, C, M, and X, with B being the weakest and X being the strongest.


The solar flare detected on February 9th was categorized as X-class, possessing potency that can instantly damage Earth’s magnetic field.


These X-class flares not only disrupt Earth’s magnetic field but also dismantle satellites, equipment, and power grids.


For example, in 1989, most places in Quebec, Canada experienced an astronomical problem, such as 9 hours of transmission grid disruptions.


Similarly, in 2020, also, 40 out of 49 satellites from the US failed to land in orbits, and solar flares being cited as one of the contributing factors behind its failure.


Moreover, these types of solar flares can also pose threats to astronauts due to further impacts of solar flares, such as causing a radiation storm and triggering a coronal mass ejection (CME).


In February 2022, a CME generated a geomagnetic storm that resulted in the loss of 38 commercial satellites due to atmospheric drag caused by solar plasma.


In reality, the solar flare, which erupted from the sunspot AR3576, caused a massive blast just days ago.


The sun’s wrath engendered blackouts in Australia and South Asia on Tuesday when an explosion emitted a gigantic cloud on Tuesday.


While solar flares can cause problems in space or electric waves, they cannot travel far enough to humans on Earth.


This is because the harmful radiation from a flare cannot transit to the Earth’s atmosphere to physically affect humans on the ground.


However, potential health effects caused by solar flares still exist.


Dr. Gary from the New Jersey Institute of Technology's Center for Solar-Terrestrial Research (NJIT) stated, “There are potential health effects for anyone exposed to that high-energy radiation, but actually, we are protected because those rays and particles get absorbed into our atmosphere.”


Today’s solar flare emanated from sunspot AR3575 just as that region of the sun was rotating to face away from Earth.


“The Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) is being analyzed, but it is anticipated to be just ahead of Earth and not likely to be directed at Earth,” said the NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC).


The sun is currently heading to solar maximum, the peak of its magnetic activity in its 11-year solar cycle.


Scientists predict that the sun will reach a peak between January and October 2024.


Currently, scientists are closely monitoring the sun’s status, with historical numbers of sunspots and dark areas that appear on its surface—which surge at the peak of solar activity.

Yunji Heo / Grade 11
Gyeonggi Academy of Foreign Languages