Astronomers observe largest solar flare since 2005

One of the largest solar flares was observed recently by Astronomers in the UK as well as in the US.

The solar flare on September 6 is said to the be largest solar flare in more than 12 years – and the eighth largest since modern records began in 1996. While this particular solar flare isn’t harmful to humans, they could have disastrous impacts on Earth in general

Solar flares have effects on satellites, GPS and even power grids and this could mean trillions of dollars in damage and could take months to repair. Better forecasting could help prepare for and mitigate much of the damage, astronomers say.

The solar flare on September 6 was one of three X-category flares – the largest type of flare – observed over 48 hour period. Large solar bursts have energies comparable to one billion hydrogen bombs and can drive plasma away from the solar surface at speeds of up to 2000 km/s in phenomena known as Coronal Mass Ejections. The largest X-class flare occurred at 13:00 GMT and was measured to have an energy level of X9.3 (where X9 is nine times more powerful than X1).

One of the most difficult aspects of flare observation using ground-based telescopes is the short time-scales over which flares evolve. X-class flares can form and reach their peak intensities in little over five minutes, meaning observers, who only see a small part of the sun at any one moment, must act fast to ensure they catch the crucial opening moments of the flares evolution.

Using data collected during this observation, researchers will be able to probe the conditions in the solar atmosphere as these powerful events are formed, allowing more accurate predictions about when and where X-class flares might occur in the future. This information can be channelled into the multi-billion pound space weather industry to better protect satellites from the dangers of the sun.