The Sun released two significant solar flares on Sept. 6, including one that clocked in as the most powerful flare of the current solar cycle.
The solar cycle is the approximately 11-year-cycle during which the Sun’s activity waxes and wanes. The current solar cycle began in December 2008 and is now decreasing in intensity and heading toward solar minimum, expected in 2019-2020. Solar minimum is a phase when solar eruptions are increasingly rare, but history has shown that they can nonetheless be intense.
Footage of the Sept. 6 X2.2 and X9.3 solar flares captured by the Solar Dynamics Observatory in extreme ultraviolet light (131 angstrom wavelength)
Our Solar Dynamics Observatory satellite, which watches the Sun constantly, captured images of both X-class flares on Sept. 6.
Solar flares are classified according to their strength. X-class denotes the most intense flares, followed by M-class, while the smallest flares are labeled as A-class (near background levels) with two more levels in between. Similar to the Richter scale for earthquakes, each of the five levels of letters represents a 10-fold increase in energy output.
The first flare peaked at 5:10 a.m. EDT, while the second, larger flare, peaked at 8:02 a.m. EDT.
Footage of the Sept. 6 X2.2 and X9.3 solar flares captured by the Solar Dynamics Observatory in extreme ultraviolet light (171 angstrom wavelength) with Earth for scale
Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation. Harmful radiation from a flare cannot pass through Earth’s atmosphere to physically affect humans on the ground, however — when intense enough — they can disturb Earth’s atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communications signals travel.
Both Sept. 6 flares erupted from an active region labeled AR 2673. This area also produced a mid-level solar flare on Sept. 4, 2017. This flare peaked at 4:33 p.m. EDT, and was about a tenth the strength of X-class flares like those measured on Sept. 6.
Footage of the Sept. 4 M5.5 solar flare captured by the Solar Dynamics Observatory in extreme ultraviolet light (131 angstrom wavelength)
This active region continues to produce significant solar flares. There were two flares on the morning of Sept. 7 as well.
For the latest updates and to see how these events may affect Earth, please visit NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center at http://spaceweather.gov, the U.S. government’s official source for space weather forecasts, alerts, watches and warnings.
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