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.
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. NASA 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.