TechNew Year's solar flare. NASA on high alert for geomagnetic storm after X5 class explosion

New Year's solar flare. NASA on high alert for geomagnetic storm after X5 class explosion

Record solar flare. NASA forecasts a solar tsunami hitting Earth.
Record solar flare. NASA forecasts a solar tsunami hitting Earth.
Images source: © NASA NOAA
3:24 PM EST, January 1, 2024

Around 6 PM (Eastern Time) on December 31st, NASA's observatory noted an explosion from solar spot AR3536. The blast resulted in the sun emitting a powerful solar flare and launching a wave of a solar tsunami into space.

X5 Class Flare

The flare that marked the end of the Earth's year set a new record, but this title may be short-lived. The last event comparable to this occurred in mid-December when the sun emitted an X2-class solar flare. Astronomers deem the latest X5 class, signifying it was several dozen times stronger.

However, these significant occurrences are not anomalies. With the 25th solar cycle nearing its end, our solar system's star is approaching the height of its activity. Decades' worth of observations helps predict that there will be an increase in sunspots susceptible to extreme explosions in the foreseeable future.

Solar flares result from these factors, and X-class flares are among the most powerful and rare. The sun emits them only a few dozen times in one solar cycle, and their intensity peaks at the height of activity. The recent monstrous flares confirm this.

The Effects of X-Class Solar Flares

X-Class flares can exert destructive effects and release a potent dose of radiation. Upon reaching Earth, they can disrupt radio signals, damage satellite systems, and affect energy infrastructure. However, the flare must be aimed directly at our planet for its effects to be particularly severe.

This was not the case this time, and although the flare's radiation was strongly felt, it wasn't destructive. It instead resulted in a 60-minute blackout of radio systems.

The blackout was widespread, mainly occurring in the Pacific Ocean region and affecting frequencies below 30 MHz.

Solar Tsunamis

In addition, X-Class flares often emit a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME), a plasma cloud - a powerful eruption torn from the sun's surface.

If its particles reach the earth, a geomagnetic storm occurs.

The effects of this event also depend on the power of the impact and its direction. This time, it's unusual because the flare happened near the sun's eastern edge. The solar plasma ripped from here should bypass Earth without a cloud. However, this time, the sun threw a tsunami wave into space.

Early NASA forecast suggests our planet may be unable to avoid the impact. This is an uncertain prediction, but the CME might have an extensive range and hit our planet on January 2. If this occurs, it could provoke a strong geomagnetic storm. Therefore, radio and satellite communication disruptions and power grid failures might be anticipated in the polar regions. Auroras reaching mid-latitudes are also potentially likely.

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