It has been the lowest-key solar maximum in 100 years. Solar activity is supposed to be peaking now, but the sun has released nary a flare during a time that it’s expected to be spitting out plasma globs several times a day.
That changed a bit this week with the release of not one, but two X-Class flares, right on the heels of an M-Class. Solar flares are classified as C, M or X, with X being the strongest. At 4:01 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time on Friday October 25, the sun shot out an X1.7 flare on the space weather scale, NASA said in a statement. A few hours later, at 11:03 a.m., it followed with an X2.1.
The X1.7 flare followed several smaller storms over the previous few days. The culprit is Sunspot AR1882, which unleashed a flurry of flares on October 25th, 2013, NASA said. Before those two was the first flare, the M9.4, which occurred on Wednesday October 23 and generated a Coronal Mass Ejection, or CME—a plasma cloud that is rocketing toward Earth and could cause a geomagnetic storm.
“Forecasters expect impacts from the first of the CMEs in about 72 hours, but things can change given the volatile nature of the three active centers on the solar disk,” the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Center said on Friday October 25. “Possible G1 (Minor) Geomagnetic Storm levels are forecast. Updates here as conditions unfold.”
While this bout may cause minimal disruption—some radio signals were out briefly on Friday when plasma hit the magnetosphere—the fun is not over.
“More flares are in the offing. There are now three sunspot groups on the Earthside of the sun capable of strong eruptions,” reported Spaceweather.com. “There is no reason to think this fusillade will end soon, so stay tuned for more flares.”