NASA captures images of strong solar flares

Solar flare

Space weather scientists classify flares based on their intensity, with X-class flares being the most powerful.

A group of researchers from the Queen's University Belfast and Sheffield University has captured the largest solar flare in around 12 years in the La Palma with the help of the Swedish Solar Telescope.

Nasa added in a statement: "The current solar cycle began in December 2008, and is now decreasing in intensity and heading toward solar minimum". Still the thing is not enough to stop the sun from the blasting the next forth of the biggest on record solar flares.

At its peak, the solar flare reached an energy level of X9.3, or nine-times more powerful than an X1 flare, that even at its most average eruption reaches power equivalent to the explosion of billions of hydrogen bombs. The last X9 flare occurred in 2006 (coming in at X9.0).

As the researchers explained, actually capturing the birth of such a solar flare was a rather hard process as a tyical X-class flare can burst and reach its peak in as little as five minutes, meaning astronomers need to act fast to ensure they catch the crucial opening moments of the flares evolution.

A researcher, Aaron Reid from the Queen's University Belfast said that, "The sun is now in what we call solar minimum".

"The X9.3 flare was the largest flare so far in the current solar cycle, the approximately 11-year-cycle during which the sun's activity waxes and wanes".

According to the Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC), these so-called category X eruptions disrupted high-frequency radio communications for one hour on the Earth's side facing the sun and low-frequency communications used in navigation.

During large solar flares, the sun can also sling a cloud of energetic plasma from its body, an event called a coronal mass ejection (CME). "The number of Active Regions, where flares occur, is low, so to have X-class flares so close together is very unusual", said Aaron Reid, a research fellow at Queen's University Belfast, in a news release.

Solar storms are also responsible for auroras, which usually only appear near Earth's poles where Earth's magnetic field is strongest.

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