Two powerful consecutive solar flares have affected terrestrial communications and become another new sign that the peak of activity of our star is coming forward. The US Government agency for space weather has explained that this flare “probably caused the degradation or total loss of communications” in the North American region, which at that time faced the Sun.
At midnight from Saturday to Sunday, NASA detected a “strong” eruption that was classified as type X, the most severe, whose image was captured through its Solar Dynamics Observatory. This flare was complicated when two powerful coronal mass ejections merged as they broke off from the Sun, reports SpaceWeather, resulting in a more powerful phenomenon. A new model from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Space Weather Prediction Center shows that the second, faster ejection exceeded and cannibalized to the first, which could turn the sum of both into a geomagnetic storm that, according to the forecast, would reach Earth August 8.
Some 42 hours later, on Monday the 7th, at 6:46 p.m. Spanish peninsular time, NASA captured another “strong solar flare.” “The image shows a subset of extreme ultraviolet light that highlights the extremely hot material in the flares,” Explain in his statement. For its part, NOAA has detailed that a flare affected Earth in an event that “reached its peak at 20:46 UTC [22:46 hora peninsular española] on August 7 and likely caused degradation or total loss of high-frequency radio communications on the sunlit side of Earth for the duration of the flare.”
The area of Earth affected by the radio blackout It was North America and the Pacific, as it began around 20:37 UTC over the west coast of Mexico and ended at approximately 21:51 UTC over the east coast of Hawaii. According to the agency in charge of space weather, the event was of type R3, that is, a “strong blackout” on a scale ranging from R1 (minor) to R5 (extreme).
This second flash is also of type X, and of similar strength to the previous one: the former was classified as X1.6 and the most recent as X1.5 (although it is possible that its intensity was greater, due to its location at one end of the star, from Earth’s perspective). The categories depend on the energy released: there are five and X is the maximum. NASA explains that the number provides more information about its strength and can go as high as 10.
In both cases, the flare arose from the same sunspot, cataloged as region 3386. Although sunspots are not the same as flares, there is a relationship between the two solar phenomena. The fact that there are a greater number of sunspots means “more activity and that the probability that something will jump is greater”, as Consuelo Cid, principal scientist at the National Space Weather Service, recently explained.
Correction on the month under timing in this graph. The flare peaked as an R3 event on 7 Aug at 4:46pm EDT. The flare was long duration and officially ended at 5:18pm EDT, but remained above R1 levels until 6:44pm EDT on 7 Aug. pic.twitter.com/4WG0OMsMiu
— NOAA Space Weather (@NWSSWPC) August 8, 2023
Solar flares are powerful bursts of energy, NASA explains, and can affect radio communications, electrical power grids, navigation signals, and pose risks to spacecraft and astronauts.
The current solar cycle indicated that the intensity peak should arrive in 2025, but all these phenomena suggest that this solar maximum will arrive at the end of 2023 or the beginning of 2024, which would mean a “event terminator”, according to specialists. This terminating phenomenon occurs when the usual 11-year solar cycle ends abruptly, when the polarity of the star changes, and the new period starts with more intensity, causing geomagnetic storms that hit the Earth causing blackouts, but also spectacular northern lights in latitudes unexpected.
In June of this year, NOAA explained that the solar cycle had accelerated much more than scientists had predicted, producing more sunspots and eruptions than experts had predicted, according to EFE. Therefore, these solar events will continue to increase as our star approaches solar maximum. “Although we are seeing increased activity on the Sun, we expect this solar cycle to be average compared to the solar cycles of the last century,” NOAA reassured through its space weather service.
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