By Abby Mullen
Since September 4, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory has detected the start of a series of solar flares. The first flare was an X2.2 flare and the second was an X9.3 flare. The X means it’s the most intense type of flare while the number says how strong it was. The last flare as powerful as the X9.3 flare was seen in 2006.
Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation on the sun’s surface. They happen when two magnetic fields connect to release energy. When the two fields connect, they create an explosion on the surface of the sun more powerful than a nuclear bomb. The particles released can travel up to 4.5 million miles per hour. Fortunately, we cannot get hurt by solar flares but they can disrupt GPS systems, according to NASA.
This solar activity may not be as usual as it seems. The sun goes through what is called a “solar cycle” about every 11 years. This is when there are changes in the sun’s radiation and appearance, including the size and number of sunspots and solar flares. The solar cycle has been observed on Earth for centuries. Scientist have been able to reconstruct what the past 11,400 years of solar activity by looking at tree rings to see how they grew. The current cycle began in December 2008 and is now decreasing in intensity and heading toward a solar minimum. At this point, solar eruptions are rare but they can be intense.