Hot on the heels of the epic American total solar eclipse in August, our sun this month has followed up with what you might call totally cray behavior. Still the thing is not enough to stop the sun from the blasting the next forth of the biggest on record solar flares.
Early on September sixth the sun released two large solar flares, one of which is the most powerful recorded blast in over a decade. The flare was definitely more powerful than the famous solar flare on March 6, 1989, which was related to the disruption of power grids in Canada.
Like the six other flares observed since September 4, this one came from a sunspot known as Active Region (AR) 2673, which is now turning away from Earth and will soon be out of sight. Caused by the sudden release of magnetic energy, in just a few seconds flares can accelerate solar particles to very high velocities, nearly to the speed of light, and heat solar material to tens of millions of degrees.
Created by the Sun's twisting magnetic field, solar flares are bursts of light and energy from the surface of our star, and their energy is measured according to a scale of A, B, C, M and X classes, where each letter is 10 times the strength of the previous one.
The space agency said: "This flare is classified as an X8.2-class flare".
"The Sun is now in what we call solar minimum", says Aaron Reid, from Queen's University Belfast's Astrophysics Research Centre. The solar storm can disrupt communications signals, however, and also fuels some pretty remarkable auroras. The number of Active Regions, where flares occur, is low, so to have X-class flares so close together is very unusual. "These observations can tell us how and why these flares formed so we can better predict them in the future". "To observe the rise phases of three X-classes over two days is just unheard of".
While the flare activity of the past week has been unusual and unexpected, it seems likely to come to an end soon.
This flare is the capstone on a series of flares from Active Region 2673, which was identified on August 29 and is now rotating off the front of the sun as part of our star's normal rotation.