- The stunning flarepeaked at 6:32pm GMT yesterday and follows on the heels of a mid-level flare earlier in the day
- Both flares came from one of the largest sunspot groups seen on our star’s surface in over a decade
- Orbital Sciences was hoping to launch a significant cargo delivery flight to the ISS today, but cancelled the launch
- It was concerned about the rocket’s electronic systems would be weakened under the harsh radiation environment
The sun has unleashed a massive solar flare seven times the size of Earth from one of the largest sunspots seen on the star’s surface.
The stunning flare, the first major one of the year, peaked at 6:32pm GMT yesterday and follows on the heels of a mid-level flare earlier in the day.
Each flare came from a different area of a large sunspot group which Nasa believes is the biggest seen on the sun in nearly a decade.
A false-colour composite image from a blast of activity originating from an active sunspot region at the centre of the sun’s disk. The sun erupted with a powerful X1.2-class solar flare on Tuesday, disrupting radio traffic and sending a blast of electrically charged particles our way
Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation. Their energy travels at the speed of light to reach Earth in just eight minutes.
At Earth, a part of the atmosphere called the ionosphere absorbs it.
Harmful radiation from a flare cannot pass through Earth’s atmosphere to physically affect humans on the ground.
However, when intense enough, flares can disturb the atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communications signals travel.
This picture combines two images from Nasa’s Solar Dynamics Observatory captured yesterday. Together, the images show the location of a giant sunspot group on the sun, and the position of an X-class flare that erupted
This disrupts the radio signals for as long as the flare is on-going, anywhere from minutes to hours.
The latest flare already delayed the launch of a private cargo ship to the International Space Station which was due to lift off today.
Commercial spaceflight company Orbital Sciences was hoping to launch a significant cargo delivery flight to the space station with its Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft.
The decision was made as the Antares rocket was awaiting launch at its pad at Nasa’s Wallops Flight Facility.
‘Early this morning the Antares launch team decided to scrub today’s launch attempt due to an unusually high level of space radiation that exceeded by a considerable margin the constraints imposed on the mission to ensure the rocket’s electronic systems are not impacted by a harsh radiation environment,’ Orbital Sciences said in a statement today.
The latest flare is classified as an X1.2-class flare. X-class denotes the most intense flares, while the number provides more information about its strength.
It is not thought to pose a threat to the six astronauts and cosmonauts living on board the International Space Station, Nasa has confirmed.
Forecasters, however, are anticipating strong geomagnetic storm conditions to occur on January 9 and 10.
This labeled image taken by SDO’s Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager shows the location of two active regions on the sun, labeled AR1944 and AR1943, which straddle a giant sunspot complex. A January 7, 2014, X1.2-class flare emanated from an area closer to AR1943
The forecast is for a ‘fairly direct’ interaction with Earth, anticipated to arrive in around midday in the UK. The storm may disrupt some GPS satellites in its path.
‘The solar flux activity that occurred late yesterday afternoon resulted in an increasing level of radiation beyond what the Antares engineering team monitored earlier in the day,’ Nasa officials added.
The sun is currently in an active phase of its 11-year solar weather cycle. The current cycle, known as Solar Cycle 24, began in 2008.
In November, the sun fired off a similarly huge solar flare causing a wide-area blackout of high frequency signal.
VIDEO: The sun has unleashed a massive solar flare seven times the size of Earth
The sun is currently in an active phase of its 11-year solar weather cycle. The current cycle, known as Solar Cycle 24, began in 2008. In November, the sun fired off a similarly huge solar flare causing a wide-area blackout of high frequency signal