Sun unleashes huge solar flare; possible Earth-bound solar storm

See new, updated blog post: Onslaught of solar flares bring space weather storms to Earth

Between 7 and 8 p.m.Tuesday night, the sun spit out a large, X5-class solar flare. NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center called it “one of the largest solar flares of the current solar cycle.”

X class flares are the strongest category of solar flares. According to NASA, they can trigger planet-wide radio blackouts and long-lasting radiation storms.

These flares are often complemented by phenomena known as coronal mass ejections (CME) which are essentially bursts of solar wind. If a CME is directed toward the Earth, a geomagnetic storm results that can interfere with the Earth’s magnetosphere.

NOAA said predictions for this particular flare/CME event “are still being refined.”

SpaceWeather.com wouldn’t draw any conclusions about where the CME might go.

“First-look data from STEREO-B are not sufficient to determine if the cloud is heading for Earth,” it said.

Its “best guess” was that CME probably won’t directly head for Earth, but rather produce a “glancing blow” on March 8 or 9.

Here’s a video from NASA showing the flare:

Via NASA: Right at midnight UT time the active region 1429 unleashed a powerful X5.4-class solar flare.

A significant solar storm can disrupt satellites, communications systems, and, in some cases, ground-based technologies and power grids. These storms also are conducive to auroras, especially at high latitudes. We will keep you posted on the predictions for this event as they are fine tuned and it draws closer.

Related links:

Understanding space weather forecasts and the risk of solar storms

Space weather: are we ready for a solar strike?

Jason is currently the Washington Post’s weather editor. A native Washingtonian, Jason has been a weather enthusiast since age 10.

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