Learn about the largest solar flare in years.
Charged particles from a massive solar flare on Tuesday, March 6, 2018, swept toward Earth at 4 million mph. Early on Thursday, March 8, solar winds at about 10 times stronger than the norm engulfed Earth.
Magnetic, radio, and radiation emissions from the storm can disrupt technology such as radio, GPS, satellite, and power grids. Solar flares have elicited dire warnings for Earth. These warnings typically refer to communications and power problems.
The storm’s affect on the planet’s magnetic field may produce colorful aurora borealisfurther from the poles than usual. As of mid-day Thursday, no reports of power or GPS problems have been reported.
Video: Watch the most powerful solar storm in years.
Solar Storm Cycle 2009 to 2019
Astronomers say that this solar storm is part of the sun’s normal 11-year cycle, which began in 2009 and is expected to peak in 2019. The solar flare on Tuesday was the second largest of this solar cycle. It traveled at 1,300 miles per second, which meant it may have swept the continental United States in less than 3 seconds.
A solar storm like this one begins with
- an active group of sunspots where magnetic fields are stronger than average,
- an initial solar flare of subatomic particles (looks like a filament coming out of the sun) that can reach the earth in seconds, and
- the coronal mass ejection (looks like a growing bubble) that can reach the earth in a couple of days.
This solar storm isn’t over. Another set of active sunspots could be ready to erupt.
About Solar Flares and Solar Storms
A solar flare represents a large energy release from the sun. Flares occur around active sunspots where intense magnetic fields penetrate the three layers of the solar atmosphere (photosphere, chromosphere, and corona). The flare ejects clouds of electrons, ions, and atoms through the corona into space, typically reaching Earth within a couple of days.
The majority of solar flares are not visible to the naked eye. Flares produce radiation across the electromagnetic spectrum, much of which is outside the visual range. Scientists monitor solar activity using special instruments.