The Sun launched three major solar flares in 24 hours

Three high-profile X-class solar flares were launched from the Sun between Mercury and Jupiter. The first two occurred seven hours apart and came in at X1.9 and X1.6 levels, respectively. The third, most powerful in the current 11-year “solar cycle” is X6.3.

Solar flares, or bursts of radiation, are ranked on a scale It goes from A, B and C to M and X, in increasing order of severity. They usually develop from discolorations such as sunspots or lesions on the surface of the sun.

Sunspots are most common near the height of the 11-year solar cycle. The current cycle, number 25, is expected to reach its peak this year. More sunspots, more chances of sunburn.

Solar flares and accompanying coronal mass ejections, or CMEs, can affect “space weather” throughout the Solar System and even on Earth. CMEs are slow shock waves of magnetic energy from the Sun. Flares can reach Earth in minutes, but CMEs typically last at least a day.

All three X-class solar flares disrupted shortwave radio communications on Earth. But the first two flares did not emit a CME; The verdict is still out on whether the third flame went out.

Three flares, three radio blackouts

High-frequency radio waves propagate by bouncing electrons in the Earth's ionosphere. It is a layer of Earth's atmosphere between 50 and 600 miles above the ground

When a solar flare occurs, that radiation travels toward Earth at the speed of light. This can ionize additional particles in the lower ionosphere. Radio waves transmitted from devices below it lose energy by impacting the extra ionized layer and cannot be bent by the ions at the top of the ionosphere. That means signals can't travel very far, and radio blackouts are possible.

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Three back-to-back radio blackouts Three flares occurred in response, but primarily over the Pacific and Indian oceans. They are rated “R3” or higher on a scale of 1 to 5.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Space Weather Prediction Center, it “causes a wide area of ​​blackout. [high frequency] radio communication, [and] Loss of radio communication for one hour in Earth's sunlight.” Low-frequency navigation signals, such as those used by aircraft traveling overseas, can be distorted.

AT&T cell service outages?

There was widespread speculation that Thursday morning's widespread AT&T outage was connected to Wednesday's solar flares. However, the Space Weather Forecast Center released A statement “It is unlikely that these flares contributed to the widely reported cellular network outages,” he noted.

Joe Kuncz, the center's former chief of operations, told The Washington Post there was “no chance” of any connection.

“First it occurred at night over North America, so no potential damage would have occurred here. Flares and their associated radio bursts only affect daytime systems,” Kuncz said in an email. “Also, even if it happens during your daytime hours, the chances of cell service being affected are zero.”

Sunburn generally does not affect cell phone frequencies. Radio blackouts associated with solar flares affect transmissions in the high-frequency 3 to 30 MHz band. Most cell phone carriers Operates between 698 and 806 MHz.

Finally, Wednesday's burn CMEs are not unleashed. Such blasts can trigger electricity that overwhelms the electrical circuits in satellites and knock them offline or destroy them. In February 2022, 40 SpaceX satellites were knocked out by a CME. Even if there had been a CME, it would have taken more than a day to reach Earth.

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Since Wednesday's first two flares didn't emit CMEs, skywatchers won't be treated to views of the Northern Lights, as is often the case when such geomagnetic storms reach Earth.

ET Thursday evening was the largest and third solar flare to occur, possibly introducing a CME, but forecasters don't know yet. They are awaiting coronagraph data. Because CMEs move more slowly than solar flares, it usually takes several hours for them to fully exit the solar disk and become visible to sensors.

Still, there are more opportunities for X-class flares and CMEs in the coming days. The parent sunspot cluster that launched all three, named “Active Region 3590,” is still erupting.

The sunspot is so big that you can see it with your own eyes — but you'll need eclipse glasses to do so safely.

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