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Huge Solar Flares Continue
SOHO LASCO catches the Sept. 9 CME TRACE close-up view of solar flare

Photo of the flare by Jack Newton of British Columbia Solar flare as seen by SXI

Top Left:The LASCO instrument on Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) eclipses the Sun to reveal a CME leaving the Sun and heading toward Earth on Friday, Sept. 9. Also available: small movie | large movie. Credit: NASA/ESA. Top Right: A close-up of Friday's flare with the Transition Region and Coronal Explorer (TRACE) spacecraft. Also available: small movie | large movie. Credit: NASA/LMSAL. Bottom Left: Wednesday's flare as photographed by Jack Newton in British Columbia. Bottom Right: Wednesday's enormous X-17 flare is visible on the left side of this solar image taken by the Earth-orbiting GOES Solar X-Ray Imager (SXI). Credit: NOAA.

Scientists are currently tracking a large sunspot that has so far unleashed seven major solar flares including an X-17-category blast on Sept. 7, an X-5 on Sept. 8, and an X-1 on Sept. 9. To say this is powerful is an understatement; Wednesday's X-17 flare was the fifth largest ever observed.

With the exception of brief radio blackouts, the flares have had little effect on Earth, although the NOAA Space Environment Center warns that as the spot moves toward Earth, agencies impacted by space weather storms may experience disruptions over the next two weeks. These include spacecraft operators, electric power systems, high frequency communications, and low-frequency navigation systems.

This sunspot is the same one that erupted in mid-August, sparking strong auroras as far south as Utah and Colorado. Over the past two weeks, the active region produced a series of significant solar eruptions as it made its way around the back-side of the Sun (facing away from Earth). Auroras were spotted over the weekend in unusual places like New York, Pennsylvania, and New Hampshire.

Solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs) -- associated giant clouds of plasma in space -- are the largest explosions in the solar system and can pack the force of a billion megaton nuclear bombs. They are caused by the buildup and sudden release of magnetic stress in the solar atmosphere above the giant magnetic poles we see as sunspots.

More information:

+ NOAA Space Weather Report
+ NOAA Press Release
+ Understanding Space Weather Effects

Other movies & images:

+ SOHO Images and Movies
+ Mauna Loa Solar Observatory
+ TRACE mosaics

Rachel A. Weintraub
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center