Sun unleashes huge solar flare towards Earth by Paul Rincon, BBC News

Large solar flare recorded by the SOHO/EIT telescope using UV light“The Sun has unleashed its strongest flare in four years, observers say.

The eruption is a so-called X-flare, the strongest type; such flares can affect communications on Earth.

Nasa’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) spacecraft recorded an intense flash of extreme ultraviolet radiation emanating from a sunspot.

The British Geological Survey (BGS) has issued a geomagnetic storm warning, and says observers might be able to see aurorae from the northern UK.

The monster flare was recorded at 0156 GMT on 15 February and directed at the Earth. According to the US space agency, the source of this activity – sunspot 1158 – is growing rapidly.

Solar flares are caused by the sudden release of magnetic energy stored in the Sun’s atmosphere.

Preliminary data from the Stereo-B and Soho spacecraft suggest that the explosion produced a fast but not particularly bright coronal mass ejection (CME) – a burst of charged particles released into space.

Image via: Getty ImagesThe unpredictable eruptions on the Sun can interfere with modern technology on Earth, such as electrical power grids, communications systems and satellites – including the satellite navigation (or sat-nav) signals used on Earth.

On Wednesday, the BGS released a rarely seen archive of geomagnetic records that provide an insight into “space weather” stretching back to the Victorian era.

BGS scientists says that studying past solar activity could inform the prediction of future space weather and help mitigate threats to national infrastructure.

In 1972, geomagnetic storm provoked by a solar flare knocked out long-distance telephone communication across the US state of Illinois.

And in 1989, another storm plunged six million people into darkness across the Canadian province of Quebec.

Northern LightsDisplays of the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) have already been seen further south than usual in Northern Ireland and elsewhere in the UK. And further activity is expected over the next few days.

Researchers say the Sun has been awakening after a period of several years of low activity.” ( BBC News )

Video: T ime lapse image of the solar flare as seen by Nasa’s Solar Dynamics Observatory

by Paul Rincon, Science reporter, BBC News
Paul Rincon (born 1977) is a British journalist specialising in science and technology. He currently works as a science journalist for BBC News, where he has reported across online, radio and television platforms. He covers a wide range of subjects, including astronomy, manned and robotic spaceflight, human evolution and particle physics.Rincon received a special citation at the 2009 Sir Arthur Clarke Awards, held at Charterhouse School in Godalming, UK, where the BBC News Science Team was awarded the prize for best space reporting. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Rincon