The sun’s strongest flare this year

An article I wrote for Electronic Products.

As the sun reaches the end of its 11-year cycle, solar flares will become increasingly common

Classified as an M6.5 flare, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory captured a striking image of the strongest flare emitted from the sun this year.

Solar Flare

The M6.5 solar flare captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. Image via

Though it’s 10 times less powerful than the strongest flares recorded, which are labeled as X-class flares, an M-class flare, like the one pictured below, can still cause space weather effects near Earth. This particular flare produced a radio blackout, categorized as an R2 on a scale between R1 and R5 on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) space weather scales, but has since died out.

What causes solar flares?

Solar flares are our solar system’s largest explosive events, seen as bright areas on the sun. As intense bursts of radiation, they come from the release of magnetic energy that’s associated with sunspots, and can last from a few minutes to several hours. They occur when magnetic energy is rapidly released, after building up in the solar atmosphere. The explosion emits radiation across the entire electromagnetic spectrum, and all of the energy released is equivalent to millions of 100-megaton hydrogen bombs exploding at once.

As the energy is released, particles such as electrons, protons, and heavy nuclei are heated and accelerated in the solar atmosphere. Though the energy is 10 million times greater than the energy released from a volcanic eruption here on Earth, it’s less than one-tenth of the total energy emitted by the sun every second.

How often do solar flares occur?

The frequency of flares depends on where the sun is in its 11-year cycle. When the solar cycle is fresh, active regions are small and very few solar flares are detected. As the sun approaches the maximum part of its cycle, the number of flares drastically increases.

Since the sun’s normal 11-year activity cycle is ramping up toward solar maximum, an increased number in flares is expected this year.

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