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Cosmic explosions: Solar flares are intense, localized eruptions of electromagnetic radiation emanating from the Sun's atmosphere. High-energy radiation travels through space and reaches Earth's atmosphere at relativistic speeds, but it is mostly absorbed by the ionosphere without penetrating the surface. This crucial interaction with the ionosphere is instrumental in preserving life on Earth.
NASA recently detected a violent solar flare originating from the Sun's atmosphere, measuring its intensity and capturing a set of images through the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) spacecraft. The SDO has been orbiting Earth's upper atmosphere since 2010, continuously observing our host star.
NASA classified the solar emission as an "X2.8 flare," making it the most substantial flare recorded since 2017. X-class flares are the most intense emissions, while C flares are the weakest and M falls in the middle. The new X-class flare was detected and recorded on December 14, 2023.
Solar flares, as NASA explained, are powerful bursts of energy. While they are not currently a threat to all lifeforms on Earth, they can impact radio communications, electric power grids, and navigation signals (GPS). Additionally, they pose a risk to orbiting spacecraft and astronauts aboard the International Space Station.
The recent X2.8 solar flare wasn't the most violent flare ever recorded, but it was strong enough to cause two hours of radio interference in the US and other sunlit parts of the world. The radio burst caused by the solar flare affected both low and higher radio frequencies, leading to multiple outages or disruptions reported by airline pilots.
Scientists are closely monitoring the Sun's activity following the X-class solar flare, as the phenomenon can result in an additional outburst of plasma in the form of coronal mass ejections (CME). CMEs could potentially reach Earth's atmosphere, causing a geomagnetic storm with even more disruptions for high-frequency radio signals. A CME would also result in spectacular auroras in northern countries, with more intense colors visible over a greater distance.
NASA observes the Sun and the "space environment" of our neighboring Solar System with the SDO and other spacecraft. This fleet of orbiting observatories is used to study the Sun's activity and atmosphere, particles and magnetic fields in the space surrounding Earth, and any other phenomena that could affect the planet's activity.