Sun cuts loose with the biggest flares of 2013


Various spacecraft views of the flare eruption late Sunday evening

Late on Mother’s Day starting at 9:17 p.m. Central time, the sun unleashed an X1.7 class flare from its backside creating a spectacular display of hot gases. This was followed by an even more powerful X2.8 flare at 11:09 a.m. today. Both rate as the strongest solar blasts of 2013. Particles from the flare left the sun at 1,200 miles per second. Had they been directed toward Earth, power grids as well as satellites could have been affected; we’d also likely have all-night displays of northern lights.

High-speed electrons and protons propelled outward by the X1.7 solar flare expand into space behind the sun over an hour’s time. The particles were moving about 1,200 miles per second. Mercury is the bright object to the left – although it appears to be in the line of fire, it’s not. Credit: NASA/ ESA

This time around the energy and high-speed particles emitted in the flares “went the other way” as far as our planet is concerned. Not so two orbiting observatories.┬áNASA says radiation from the latest flare may stream toward STEREO-B, a sun-watching probe, the Mercury MESSENGER spacecraft and Spitzer Space Telescope, which astronomers use to study the universe in infrared light. Engineers may decide at some point to put them all in safe mode to avoid damage to their sensitive electronics.

In a few days the sunspot region responsible for the flare will rotate onto the sun’s front side. Many are eager for a closeup look at this new bit of activity.

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About astrobob

My name is Bob King and I work at the Duluth News Tribune in Duluth, Minn. as a photographer and photo editor. I'm also an amateur astronomer and have been keen on the sky since age 11. My modest credentials include membership in the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) where I'm a regular contributor, International Meteorite Collectors Assn. and Arrowhead Astronomical Society. I also teach community education astronomy classes at our local planetarium.

5 thoughts on “Sun cuts loose with the biggest flares of 2013

  1. I have fond memories of northern lights but the last time I saw a display was years ago, which seems like ages ago. I am ready for a grand display.

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