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Explosive Solar Flare Spotted By Sun-Watching Spacecraft

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A bright solar flare leaps from the left side of the sun in this new photo. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory obtained the image on Aug. 24, 2014.
A bright solar flare leaps from the left side of the sun in this new photo. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory obtained the image on Aug. 24, 2014.

The sun kicked off this week with an explosive solar flare that, while not aimed directly at Earth, may be a hotspot to watch over the next few days.

The solar flare erupted on Sunday morning (Aug. 24) from an active sunspot known as AR2151. Two sun-watching spacecraft captured stunning video of Sunday's solar flare as it leapt off the surface of the sun at 8:16 a.m. EDT (1216 GMT).

While sunpost AR2151 wasn't facing Earth at the time of the flare, it is a place to watch in the days and weeks ahead. "The responsible sunspot will turn toward Earth in the days ahead, boosting chances for geoeffective solar activity as the week unfolds," experts with the space weather website Spaceweather.com wrote on Sunday.

Sunday's flare was an intense M5.6 solar eruption on the scale used by scientists to measure space weather events. M-class storms are about 10 times weaker than X-class flares, the most powerful storms on the sun, NASA spokeswoman Karen Fox wrote in a statement.

"Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation," Fox added. "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 the atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communications signals travel."

solar flare sunA moderate flare erupted on the sun, Aug. 24, 2014, shown in this image showing light in the 131 and 171 Angstrom wavelengths. The shorter wavelength, normally colorized in teal, highlights the extremely hot material of a flare.

When aimed at Earth, M-class solar flares can amplify the planet's northern lights displays, causing amazing aurora views for observers at high latitudes. Earth-directed X flares, meanwhile, can pose a danger to astronauts in space, as well as interfere with satellite communications and navigation systems.

The Sunday solar flare was captured on video by NASA's powerful Solar Dynamics Observatory and the Solar Helospheric Observatory (SOHO) overseen by NASA and the European Space Agency. The two space observatories are part of a fleet of spacecraft keeping a close eye on the sun's space weather events.

The sun's activity rises and falls on a 11-year space weather cycle. The current cycle is known as Solar Cycle 24.

Email Tariq Malik at tmalik@space.com or follow him @tariqjmalik and Google+. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on Space.com.

Copyright 2014 SPACE.com, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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