TechIntense sunspot eruption triggers X-class flare: Global radio blackout and geomagnetic storms expected

Intense sunspot eruption triggers X‑class flare: Global radio blackout and geomagnetic storms expected

Images source: © ESA

8:55 AM EST, December 16, 2023

On December 14th, at 1:02 PM (Eastern Time), the Sun discharged an intense solar flare. It was rated as an X-class, with a 2.28 level flare, an event of such strength is yet to occur in the current solar cycle.

X-class solar flare

Solar flares are usually a result of sunspot eruptions, and this event was no exception. The powerful flare originated from sunspot 2514, as observed by the Solar Dynamics Observatory.

The strength of the explosion promptly impacted the Earth, causing a radio signal blackout. In both American continents, frequencies below 30 Mhz were unavailable for over half an hour. However, that's not the conclusion.

In the ranking of solar flares, though it was not an all-time event, it was the most powerful in the history of the 25th solar cycle. Our parent star is gradually reaching its peak activity and X-class solar flares may lead to severe consequences.

They are potent enough to damage satellites and destroy infrastructure related to energy and telecommunications. In rare instances, their radiation can affect humans, especially when flying in the wrong place and time during a solar eruption. Being in the polar region during a solar explosion could expose our bodies to additional radiation.

Geomagnetic storm as a result of the flare

Intense solar flares like this one are typically followed by a phenomenon known as Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) - a cloud of plasma that travels thousands of miles per second in space. If Earth lies in its path, a geomagnetic storm is the outcome.

This event usually causes auroras and disrupts radio communication in polar regions temporarily. In extreme cases, it has the potential to destroy power grids and telecommunications infrastructure.

Fortunately, in this instance, we are lucky. Though the CME is moving swiftly toward Earth, it isn't aimed directly at it. The flow of solar plasma will collide with our planet, but it will only hit us on the rebound.

Based on the latest reports, from December 15th to 16th, we may experience a slight geomagnetic storm (G1) on Earth caused by CME particles carried in the solar wind stream. However, the most severe impact will not occur until December 17th. Then, the intensity of the geomagnetic storm will significantly rise, but only to moderate (G2) or strong (G3) levels.

In the worst-case scenario, it will be a busy period for the ground control of satellite systems. Earth's inhabitants may encounter difficulties with navigation and radio communication. But, there is also a chance for the aurora borealis to become visible over Europe.

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