Solar flares are eruptions of solar radiation, and the massive X-class flare reached its peak shortly after noon Eastern time. The Solar Dynamic Observatory caught the flare on video as it reached an X2 level on the scale of solar eruptions.
Solar flare causes radio outages
The flare was so large that it knocked out radio signals across a large part of the Western Hemisphere. Thomas Ashcraft, an amateur radio astronomer, said that the flare was strong enough to “scramble” the ionosphere, which made it impossible for any decametric radio signals around the globe to penetrate the interference.
According to Ashcraft the outage lasted approximately 15 minutes, during which time he was only able to pick up radio signals emitted by the electricity in his observatory.
The flare originated from a sunspot known as Active Region 12297, which had been emitting less intense flares in the days before the X-class flare shot out towards Earth on Wednesday. A report from the U.S. Space Weather Prediction Center in Colorado states that the flare was responsible for causing an area-wide blackout which lasted for as long as an hour in some locations, leading to the breakdown in high-frequency radio communications.
Biggest flare emitted by sunspot this year
R2 moderate and R1 minor radio blackouts were also experienced as a result of the flare, which was later announced as the largest emitted by Active Region 12297 this year. The delay in properly evaluating the strength of the flare is due to the relatively slower speed of the superheated plasma known as coronal mass injections compared to the solar flare.
CMEs regularly accompany solar flares, but can take 2-3 days to reach the Earth despite traveling at over a million miles per hour. When solar flares are emitted in the direction of the Earth, CMEs are capable of temporarily disrupting global positioning satellites, as well as causing problems for terrestrial power grids.
The monitoring of solar activity is of great importance to our understanding of the solar system as a whole, and massive flares have the potential to cause widespread disruption.