Solar storm! Sun unleashes massive X-class solar flare, triggers radio blackouts on February 9

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There is no respite from solar storms for Earth. The Sun emitted a powerful X-class solar flare on February 9, reaching its peak at 8:10 a.m. (1310 GMT), resulting in shortwave radio blackouts across regions of South America, Africa, and the Southern Atlantic. Originating from sunspot AR3576, which had previously exhibited an M-class flare and plasma eruption on February 5, this recent solar flare marked a significant event in solar activity. Fortunately, by February 8, the sunspot had moved away as the sun and Earth rotated, thereby diverting the planet from the solar storm’s direct trajectory.

Coronal Mass Ejection and Solar Impact

Accompanying the solar flare was a coronal mass ejection (CME), characterized by a substantial release of plasma and magnetic field from the sun. Observations by heliophysicist Alex Young indicated a clear eruption, with a coronal wave suggesting a rapid CME trajectory westward, Space.com reported.

Although the sunspot’s location far to the south diminishes the likelihood of a direct impact on Earth from the CME associated with AR3576, its effects were nonetheless felt. The X-flare induced extensive radio blackouts due to the intense pulse of X-rays and extreme ultraviolet radiation, ionizing the upper layers of Earth’s atmosphere and disrupting shortwave radio communication in sunlit regions, including South America, Africa, and the Southern Atlantic.

Solar flares occur due to the release of magnetic energy in the solar atmosphere, categorized by their intensity and size, with X-class flares being the most potent. The recent flare registered as X.3.38, highlighting its significant magnitude. This heightened solar activity coincides with the approaching “solar maximum” phase of the sun’s 11-year solar cycle.

As scientists monitor the sun’s activity closely, the emergence of giant sunspots and the potential for further solar flares raise concerns for satellite operations and electronic systems on Earth. Agencies such as NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center and the World Data Center for the Sunspot Index work diligently to assess these threats and improve space weather forecasting. Additionally, NASA’s Heliophysics Systems Observatory continues to study the sun and its influence on the solar system, aiming to enhance our understanding of space weather phenomena.

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