Despite having already seen a large number of solar flare events over the past few weeks, scientists are warning that there may be more to follow.
Solar physicists and space weather analysts have warned of additional solar flares and even Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) in the coming days as a large sunspot or a group of sunspots have turned to face the Earth.
What are solar flares?
Solar flares are immensely potent bursts of radiation from the Sun’s surface. These bursts happen due to the twisting up of magnetic fields on the Sun’s surface, which itself is caused due to the plasma in the Sun moving at different rates, speeds and directions.
Solar flares contain as much energy as 2.5 million nuclear bombs and can reach temperatures of up to 100 million Kelvins, making them one of the hottest places in the Solar System for just a few seconds.
Solar flares are classified into three categories -- C-Class, the smallest events; M-Class, medium-sized events that can cause radio blackouts in the polar regions; and X-Class, the biggest events that can cause radio blackouts across the entire planet.
The Sun launched two X-class flares on Tuesday (April 19) and Wednesday (April 20), reportedly causing radio blackouts in Australia, the Western Pacific and eastern Asia.
Several other M-class flares have also erupted in the past weeks. According to physicists at Centre of Excellence in Space Sciences India (CESSI), 13 M class solar flares were reported between April 15 and 21, reported the Indian Express.
The reason behind the high frequency of solar flare activity is two-fold. The Sun has embarked on its 25th solar cycle, which started in 2019-2020. Solar cycles are 11-year phases that determine the Sun’s weather.
As the Sun approaches the Solar maximum, the most active part of its 11-year cycle which occurs in the middle, the number of sunspots, and thus solar flares also increase. The solar maximum is predicted to occur around 2024-2025.
Secondly, NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory shows the large sunspot group AR2993-94 moving in place for Earth to be in direct line of fire for potential solar flares. The recent X-class flare was released from the AR2992 sunspot, which was at the edge of the Sun and thus missed most of Earth despite being the most powerful solar flare seen in the past five years.
With solar activity only going to increase over the next years, and more sun spots facing the Earth in the short-term, we may see more solar flares in the coming weeks.