The Sun unleashes four large X-class solar flares
16 May 2013
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The Sun is approaching its peak of activity this year and is now littered with sunspot groups, which are the regions where the solar magnetic field emerges into its atmosphere providing the energy for that activity.  We have a number of spacecraft directe

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A Coronal Mass Ejection erupting from the Sun taken by SDO
(Credit: NASA SDO)
The Sun is approaching its peak of activity this year and is now littered with sunspot groups, which are the regions where the solar magnetic field emerges into its atmosphere providing the energy for that activity.  We have a number of spacecraft directed at the Sun, to study how that atmosphere evolves as it prepares to expel clouds – the so-called Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) - into space and generates explosive solar flares.
 
In the last few days, a complex sunspot region has come into view on the solar limb that has appeared with ‘all guns firing'. It has produced four large ‘X-class’ solar flares in the past three days, and a number of very fast CMEs. One of the flares produced a limited blackout of high-frequency radio communications over the UK, which was monitored by scientists at STFC. (The other three flares occurred during UK night time.) A radiation storm from these events has also been observed by one of the NASA STEREO spacecraft, observing the Sun from a vantage point some 200 million kilometres from Earth. At present it is difficult to forecast if this activity will continue, but if it does we may expect some CMEs to be directed towards our planet in a few days’ time, resulting in geomagnetic and radiation storms at the Earth. STFC experts are liaising with other UK experts to monitor the situation, and especially with the Met Office which has responsibility to issue formal warnings of adverse space weather.
 
The Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) is one of the spacecraft monitoring the Sun's activity.  For up to date images of recent solar activity please visit the NASA SDO website (link opens in a new window).
 

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