January 2015 – SPACE WEATHER – The first notable solar flare of 2015 has been spotted on the sun, NASA has said. An image of the event shows the powerful burst of radiation on the surface. This particular flare is not thought to be any threat to Earth – but does that not stop the burst still looking mightily impressive. The mid-level flare was emitted by the sun and peaked this morning at 4:24am GMT (11:24pm EST yesterday). It was captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, which watches the sun constantly. This particular event was classified as an M5.6-class flare.
M-class flares are a tenth the size of the most intense flares, the X-class flares. The number provides more information about its strength. An M2 is twice as intense as an M1, an M3 is three times as intense, and so on. Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation, but harmful radiation from a flare cannot pass through Earth’s atmosphere and physically affect humans on the ground. However, when intense enough, they can disturb the atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communications. A solar flare occurs when magnetic energy that has built up in the solar atmosphere is suddenly released – mostly in the active regions around sunspots.
Their frequency varies from several a day, when the sun is particularly active, to less than one a week during quiet periods. Radiation is emitted across virtually the entire electromagnetic spectrum, from radio waves at the long wavelength end, through optical emission to x-rays and gamma rays at the short wavelength end. The amount of energy released is the equivalent of millions of 100-megaton hydrogen bombs exploding at the same time. Solar flares are not to be confused with coronal mass ejections (CMEs). The former are the flash of light from the sun, while the latter are the actual emission of material that we often see as ‘loops’ coming from the surface. While the two often accompany each other, the relationship between them is not entirely understood. –Daily