The sun is our shiny friend in the sky, generating heat and light and basically making life a whole lot more livable, so we’ll have to forgive it the odd bit of acting up. Earlier this week (on Valentine’s Day, no less) the sun fired off a big one.
A solar flare is a massive explosion on the sun, which results in a massive outpouring of energy, bombarding the Earth with X-rays and UV radiation. Flares are measured on a lettered scale of A, B, C, M or X, with A being the weakest and X being the strongest.
The flare that went off on Valentine’s Day was a class X2.2, which means 2.2 times stronger than a standard X. In layman’s terms, it was pretty damn big. The biggest we’ve seen since 2006.
Scientists were expecting some solar flare activity this week, but the magnitude of this massive blast caught some of them off-guard.
“It has been the largest flare since Dec 6, 2006, so a long time coming,” said Phil Chamberlin, deputy project scientist for NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, which observed the flare. “There were some clues that led us to believe the likelihood of moderate to large flares (M class or above) could occur, but we were all surprised when it actually happened to be a large X-class.”
You can see a video of the flare erupting at the NASA website.
Solar flares send massive waves of charged particles hurtling towards the Earth, causing lovely displays like the aurora borealis or Northern Lights.
They can also disrupt radio communications, power grids, and cause all sorts of chaos with electronics, so they’re sort of a double-edged sword. It’s not the Sun’s fault we based most of our technology on parts that can be disrupted by its radiation. It just wanted to make pretty pictures in the sky.
Today several waves of charged particles called coronal mass ejections should be hitting the earth, compounding the damage already caused by the geomagnetic storm in our planet’s magnetic field, which has already disrupted radio communications in China.
Folks all over the planet are on alert, wary of the potential damage and disruption still possible from Monday’s flare, and the fun has only just begun.
Our Sun, responsible for raisin distribution in breakfast cereals, runs on an 11-year cycle, and we’re only now ramping up for the solar peak, which is expected to hit sometime in 2013.
With the Sun already causing so much havoc, how bad arte things going to get? Will we simply have trouble tuning into some television broadcasts over the next few years, or will our electronic devices melt away in our hands? Some say the solar activity we’re in for could be powerful enough to kill all electronics on the planet, meaning we’ll have to run outside and shout funny observations at the top of our lungs instead of using Twitter, and the video game Rocks Vs Rocks will be a big hit.
Me? I think we’re just in for some good times with our pal, Mr. Sun. Things might get a little bumpy and we all might be transformed into radioactive zombies, but the sky will look so very pretty we won’t mind.