October 23, 2012
NASA Observatory Captures Another X-Class Solar Flare
[WATCH VIDEO: Active Region On The Sun Emits Another Flare]
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
The solar flare came from an active region on the left side of the sun known as AR 1598, which has been the source of weaker flares.
The "X-class" solar flares are the most intense flares, with the number near the X representing its intensity. An X2 class solar flare is twice as intense as an X1, while an X3 is three times as intense.
NASA said the recent solar flare can cause degradation or blackouts of radio communications for about an hour.
These flares are powerful bursts of radiation, but cannot pass through Earth's atmosphere and physically affect humans. However, they can disturb the atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communications signals travel.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) originally categorized the radio blackout associated with Monday's flare as an R3, on a scale from R1 to R5.
The sun is currently ramping up towards solar maximum, which is expected in 2013, so flares are becoming a common occurrence. Humans have tracked this 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 took place on February 15, 2011, and there have been 15 X-class flares total in this cycle. The latest X-class flare in this cycle was an X6.9 back on August 9, 2011. Monday's flare was the 7th X-class flare in 2012, with the largest being an X5.4 flare back on March 7.
NASA said the latest flare did not have an associated Earth-directed coronal mass ejection (CME) with it, which is a phenomenon that can send solar particles into space and affect electronic systems in satellites.