Dangerous Sunspot Just Sent a Huge Solar Flare Hurtling Towards Earth

A sunspot has hurled over 16 powerful solar flares towards Earth in the past two days, causing radio blackouts over the Atlantic ocean. The sunspot is facing our planet at an angle, meaning most of the impact from its activity has missed our planet, but experts warn that an even more dangerous one is staring straight at us.

“It has been an exciting couple of days,” The Sun Today: Solar Facts and Space Weather said in a Facebook post about the recent activity.

“My phone gets notifications every time [solar flares] happen…it’s just been nonstop,” one user said. “These two days have been wild.”

Solar flare satellite image
An image of the Sun’s surface taken by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory probe. A series of 16 solar flares in the last 48 hours has caused radio blackouts on Earth.

Sunspots are dark areas on the surface of the sun where the magnetic field is particularly strong. The magnetic field lines near these spots can become entangled, resulting in a sudden release of energy, often in the form of a solar flare.

Solar flares are ejections of electromagnetic radiation, usually in the form of x-rays, and are classified according to their strength.

“The weakest are the A-class flares, followed in intensity by the B-class, C-class, M-class—these are ‘moderate’—and the X-class,” Gonzalo José Carracedo Carballal, an astrophysics researcher at the Instituto Nacional de Técnica in Madrid, previously told Newsweek.

Jesse Woodroffe, a program scientist in the Heliophysics Division at NASA HQ, previously told Newsweek that a solar flare is about a million times stronger than a nuclear bomb. However, this energy is spread out across space and time, and the Earth’s atmosphere protects us from most of the radiation that hits our planet.

Solar activity over the last two days has seen an unusually high number of M-class flares from the region AR3165, which has caused disruptions to radio signaling.

[M5-class flares are] pretty severe,” Huw Morgan, head of solar system physics at Aberystwyth University in the United Kingdom, previously told Newsweek. “It’s a bit like the ‘Gale force’ scale for earth winds. An M-class flare is 10 times as intense as the next scale down, C-class.”

Solar flare near earth
An image illustrating a solar flare hurtling towards Earth. A dangerous sunspot, AR3163, is staring right at us and is showing signs of magnetic entangling.

The strongest flares are the X-class flares, which can trigger planet-wide radio blackouts on Earth. SpaceWeatherLive.com, which records real-time solar activity, has said that there is a 10 percent chance of one of these powerful X-class flares from AR3165 today and a 45 percent chance of further M flares.

But another sunspot, in region 3163, is also a cause for concern. Unlike AR3165, which is facing Earth at an angle, AR3163 is pointing directly at us, and also has a 10 percent chance of producing an X-class flare.

Magnetic imaging of AR3163 shows that the magnetic fields within the spot are beginning to entangle, which could result in a major energy release in the direction of our planet.

For the time being, AR3163 has remained quiet, but it will continue to face Earth for the next few days.

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