Solar Unrest Culminates in Violent Eruption: Big Pic
Aug. 9, 2011 -- As London erupts with violence, Middle East unrest continues and the world's volatile stock markets careen out of control, the tumultuous sun keeps reminding us that no matter how chaotic things get on Earth, the massive ball of magnetized plasma will always dwarf terrestrial matters.
Early this morning, a powerful X-class flare rocked the solar surface, creating a dazzling show for the orbiting NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). As can be seen by the high-definition SDO photograph above, the flare erupted near the solar limb, directed (mostly) away from Earth.
The "X7" flare erupted at the site of the particularly active sunspot 1263 at 3:48 a.m. ET. X-class flares are the strongest classification of solar flares, with C- and M-class flares representing the weakest and medium-strength flares, respectively. The Earth's atmosphere has been buffeted by a series of M-class flares in sunspots 1263 and 1261 over the past few days, prompting the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to issue warnings to satellite operators and power companies around the globe.
Although this morning's flare generated a coronal mass ejection (CME), it is not thought that there will be any major impact to Earth. However, according to SpaceWeather.com's Tony Phillips, there is a minor proton storm in progress -- i.e. high-energy protons buzzing around the vicinity of the Earth's magnetosphere -- that have the potential to cause some satellite damage. There are also reports that the X-ray radiation caused waves of ionization in the Earth's ionosphere, blocking the global transmission of VLF and HF radio frequencies.
-- by Ian O'Neill
Image top: A composite image seen through the 94, 335 and 193 Å filters of the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) instrument aboard NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, highlighting the location of the X7 flare and plasma temperatures reaching several million Kelvin. Image bottom: The sun seen through the AIA's 171 Å filter shortly before the X7 flare. The 171 Å filter is sensitive to plasma temperatures of 630,000 Kelvin -- cooler regions of the sun's corona and the transition region. Credit/source: NASA/SDO/AIA Consortium