What NASA knows as sunspot 1402 spat out an X2-class solar flare on January 27, more powerful than the January 23 one that set the northern lights ablaze as far south as Ireland. This latest solar phenemonon shot away from Earth, though it could easily have come this way if the sun were facing in another direction.
Like spun gold, the gas particles loop along the path set for them by the sun’s magnetic lines. In this video “Bad Astronomer” Phil Plait condensed 60 hours of solar activity into one and a half minutes that include that flare, which could have caused havoc on Earth’s communications systems if it had been pointed in the right direction. As it is, the sun was turning away from us when the 5.6-million-mph fireball let fly, MSNBC reported.
It is just the latest in what promises to be a pretty steady show as the sun enters a peak activity period, scientists say. They could even spruce up the aurora borealis as often as once a month, solar physics experts told USA Today.
“The solar cycle is increasing, and so we are going to get more storms,” University of Michigan space weather expert Tamas Gombosi told USA Today.
Gombosi said that although the cycle seemed to have gotten off to a slow start, it was still going to peak as normal in 2013, on schedule with its 11-year cycle.
As Plait explains in the video below, the magnetic loops are as much as 180,000 miles tall in this region of the sun, which is actually a group of sunspot clusters.
“You can see the field lines get tangled and more complex, then KABLAM! The field lines explode, blasting out the flare, and in the aftermath they become calmer and simpler, but still incredibly beautiful,” the Bad Astronomer writes in his blog at Discover.com.
Below it is a quick look from the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) of the actual flare.