Strong sunshine since 2017

NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured this image of sunlight seen in the bright flash at left on December 31, 2023. This image shows a subset of extreme ultraviolet light that highlights the hottest material in the flares, which is colorful. Yellow and orange in color. Credit: NASA/SDO

The sun produced a strong solar flare, peaking at 4:55 p.m EastOn December 31, 2023. NASAThe Solar Dynamics Observatory, which continues to observe the Sun, captured an image of the event.

Powerful bursts of solar energy. Flares and solar flares can pose hazards to radio communications, electrical power grids, navigation signals, and the spacecraft and astronauts.

This flare is classified as an X5.0 flare. The X-class indicates the most intense burns, while the number provides more information about its strength.

Strong Solar Flare December 2023

Credit: NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center

More details provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Space Weather Prediction Center:

An X5.0 flare (R3 strong radio blackout). NOAA/SWPC zone 3536 occurred on 31/2155 UTC. This flare comes from the same region that produced the X2.8 flare on December 14, 2023. This is the largest flare observed since the X8.2 flare on September 10, 2017. Despite low confidence, CME (coronal mass ejection) modeling related to this event determined the possibility of proximity shock impacts near Earth as early as January 2. In response there is a G1 (minor) geomagnetic storm watch in effect on January 2.

Coronal mass ejections and solar flares

Coronal mass ejections and solar flares. Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/Mary Pat Hrypike-Keith

Sunburns

Solar flares are sudden and intense bursts of radiation emitted from the Sun's surface, often near its sunspots. These flares are caused by the release of magnetic energy stored in the Sun's atmosphere. This energy heats the solar material to billions of degrees, emitting gamma rays, X-rays, and ultraviolet radiation.

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Solar flares are primarily classified into three categories based on their strength: C-class, M-class and X-class.

  • C-Class Combustion: These are small flares with minimal impact on Earth. They are common and may occur more frequently during periods of high solar activity.
  • M-Class Combustion: These are medium-sized flares that cause brief radio blackouts at the poles and small radiation storms that endanger astronauts.
  • X-Class Flares: The most intense type, these flares can trigger planet-wide radio blackouts and long-lasting radiation storms. They are often accompanied by coronal mass ejections (CMEs), which can have significant effects on Earth's magnetosphere and geomagnetic field.

Each class is ten times more powerful than the previous one, and each class has a finesse scale from 1 to 9. For example, the X5 flare is five times longer than the X1 flare.

NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory orbits Earth

Artist's concept image of the SDO satellite orbiting Earth. Credit: NASA

NASA's Solar Dynamics Laboratory

NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) is a spacecraft launched in February 2010 as part of the Living With a Star (LWS) program. SDO's primary mission is to understand the influence of the Sun on Earth and near-Earth space by studying the solar atmosphere at small scales in space and time and at multiple wavelengths simultaneously.

SDO has a suite of instruments that provide observations that lead to a more complete understanding of solar dynamics:

  1. Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA): It captures images of the solar atmosphere at multiple wavelengths to link surface changes to interior changes.
  2. Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager (HMI): Study the solar magnetic field and generate data to determine internal sources of solar variability.
  3. Extreme Ultraviolet Variance Experiment (EVE): Measures the sun's extreme ultraviolet radiation AccuracyThis is important for understanding the impact on Earth's atmosphere.
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By continuing to observe the Sun, it helps scientists learn more about solar activity and how it affects Earth, playing an important role in our ability to predict space weather events.

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