The sun emitted a third significant solar flare in under 24 hours, peaking at 9:11 p.m. EDT on May 13, 2013. This flare is classified as an X3.2 flare. This is the strongest X-class flare of 2013 so far, surpassing in strength the two X-class flares that occurred earlier in the 24-hour period.
The flare was also associated with a coronal mass ejection, or CME. The CME began at 9:30 p.m. EDT and was not Earth-directed. Experimental NASA research models show that the CME left the sun at approximately 1,400 miles per second, which is particularly fast for a CME. The models suggest that it will catch up to the two CMEs associated with the earlier flares. The merged cloud of solar material will pass by the Spitzer spacecraft and may give a glancing blow to the STEREO-B and Epoxi spacecraft. Their mission operators have been notified. If warranted, operators can put spacecraft into safe mode to protect the instruments from solar material.
These pictures from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory show the three X-class flares that the sun emitted in under 24 hours on May 12-13, 2013. The images show light with a wavelength of 131 angstroms, which is particularly good for showing solar flares and is typically colorized in teal. Credit: NASA/SDO › Larger image › Unlabeled image
Four images from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory of an X3.2-class flare from late at night on May 13, 2013. Starting in the upper left and going clockwise, the images show light in the 304-, 335-, 193- and 131-angstrom wavelengths. By looking at the sun in different wavelengths, scientists can view solar material at different temperatures, and thus learn more about what causes flares.
Credit: NASA/SDO › Larger image › Unlabeled image
Second Update: May 13, 3:30 p.m. EDT
The X2.8-class flare was also associated with a coronal mass ejection, or CME, another solar phenomenon that can send billions of tons of solar particles into space, which can potentially affect electronic systems in satellites and on the ground. The CME was not Earth-directed, but could pass NASA's STEREO-B, Messenger and Spitzer spacecraft. Their mission operators have been notified. Experimental NASA research models show that the CME left the sun at 1,200 miles per second beginning at 12:18 p.m. EDT. If warranted, operators can put spacecraft into safe mode to protect the instruments from solar material.
On May 12-13, 2013, the sun erupted with an X1.7-class and an X2.8-class flare, as well as two coronal mass ejections, or CMEs, off the upper left side of the sun. Solar material also danced and blew off the sun in what’s called a prominence eruption on the lower right side of the sun. This movie compiles imagery of this activity from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory and from NASA and the European Space Agency's Solar and Heliospheric Observatory Credit: NASA/SDO/ESA/SOHO Music: "Long Range Cruise" by Lars Leonhard, courtesy of the artist and BineMusic. › Download video in HD formats
First Update: May 13, 1:30 p.m. EDT
On May 13, 2013, the sun emitted an X2.8-class flare, peaking at 12:05 p.m. EDT. This is the the strongest X-class flare of 2013 so far, surpassing in strength the X1.7-class flare that occurred 14 hours earlier. It is the 16th X-class flare of the current solar cycle and the third-largest flare of that cycle. The second-strongest was an X5.4 event on March 7, 2012. The strongest was an X6.9 on Aug. 9, 2011.
On May 13, 2013, an X2.8-class flare erupted from the sun -- the strongest flare of 2013 to date. This image of the flare, shown in the upper left corner, was captured by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory in light of 131 angstroms, a wavelength which is particularly good for capturing the intense heat of a solar flare and which is typically colorized in teal. Credit: NASA/SDO › Larger image
Original Story: May 13
On May 12, 2013, the sun emitted a significant solar flare, peaking at 10 p.m. EDT. This flare is classified as an X1.7, making it the first X-class flare of 2013. The flare was also associated with another solar phenomenon, called a coronal mass ejection (CME) that can send solar material out into space. This CME was not Earth-directed.
The sun erupted with an X1.7-class solar flare on May 12, 2013. This is a blend of two images of the flare from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory: One image shows light in the 171-angstrom wavelength, the other in 131 angstroms.
Credit: NASA/SDO/AIA › Larger image
Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation. 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. This disrupts the radio signals for as long as the flare is ongoing – the radio blackout associated with this flare has since subsided.
The Impacts of Solar Flares
Some people worry that a gigantic "killer solar flare" could hurl enough energy to destroy Earth, but this is not actually possible.
"X-class" denotes the most intense flares, while the number provides more information about its strength. An X2 is twice as intense as an X1, an X3 is three times as intense, etc.
This flare erupted from an active region just out of sight over the left side of the sun, a region that will soon rotate into view. This region has produced two smaller M-class flares as well.
The May 12 flare was also associated with a coronal mass ejection, another solar phenomenon that can send billions of tons of solar particles into space, which can affect electronic systems in satellites and on the ground. Experimental NASA research models show that the CME left the sun at 745 miles per second and is not Earth-directed, however its flank may pass by the STEREO-B and Spitzer spacecraft, and their mission operators have been notified. If warranted, operators can put spacecraft into safe mode to protect the instruments from solar material. There is some particle radiation associated with this event, which is what can concern operators of interplanetary spacecraft since the particles can trip computer electronics on board.
Increased numbers of flares are quite common at the moment because the sun's normal 11-year activity cycle is ramping up toward solar maximum, which is expected in 2013. Humans have tracked the solar cycle continuously since it was discovered in 1843, and it is normal for there to be many flares a day during the sun's peak activity. The first X-class flare of the current solar cycle occurred on Feb. 15, 2011, and there have been another 15 X-class flares since, including this one. The largest X-class flare in this cycle was an X6.9 on Aug. 9, 2011.
NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center (http://swpc.noaa.gov) is the U.S. government's official source for space weather forecasts, alerts, watches and warnings.