A powerful X-class solar flare erupted from the Sun on December 31st, unleashing a wave of charged particles towards Earth that could spark geomagnetic storms and northern lights displays over the next day or two.
Sun Unleashes Strongest Flare Since 2017
NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory captured images of an intense X5.0-class solar flare bursting from the Sun on New Year’s Eve. Clocking in at 5 on the scale used to measure flare strength, it is the most powerful flare since September 2017 and ended 2023 with a bang.
The flare originated from sunspot AR3182, which rotated into view on December 27th. Scientists classified AR3182 as a delta-class sunspot, indicating it is capable of producing major eruptions.
Solar Flares by Class:
X-class: Most intense, 1-5 range
M-class: Medium intensity, second most powerful
C-class: Average intensity flares
B-class: Small or minor intensity
A-class: Very small intensity
Along with bright flashes of extreme ultraviolet and X-ray radiation, these types of eruptions often spew clouds of solar plasma and magnetic fields called coronal mass ejections (CMEs).
NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center indicates a fast-moving CME is headed for Earth, estimating its arrival on January 2nd.
Geomagnetic Storm Watch Issued for January 2nd
Forecasters have issued a G1 geomagnetic storm watch for January 2nd in response to the incoming CME. This means there is the possibility of minor geomagnetic storm conditions.
When CMEs collide with Earth’s magnetosphere, it can spark geomagnetic storms that fuel visually stunning aurora light shows while also disrupting communications and navigation systems.
The Space Weather Prediction Center gives the current geomagnetic storm conditions at below G1 minor levels but expects that to ramp up to G1 minor storm levels starting late on January 1st through January 2nd as the CME passes.
Aurora Alert for Northern U.S. and Canada
Sky watchers across the northern tier of the United States and much of Canada have the chance to spot the aurora borealis or northern lights following the New Year’s Eve solar tempest.
Areas at higher latitudes closer to the North Pole stand the best opportunity if skies remain clear, but there is still the possibility of sightings across the northern contiguous U.S. from Washington to Maine.
Radio Blackouts Possible as Particles Bombard Earth’s Atmosphere
The charged particles blasting from the Sun can cause random current surges in power lines and induce extra electrical currents in satellites, communications networks, and navigation signals when they arrive at Earth.
As the energetic particles ionize the atmosphere, they can block high frequency radio signals relied upon by amateur radio operators, aviators, and mariners.
NOAA’s scale for radio blackouts rates the incoming storm at R2 levels, meaning high frequency communications could be degraded and loss of radio contact for tens of minutes possible on Earth’s sunlit side.
Monitoring the Threatening Delta-Class Sunspot AR3182
While this storm proves the Sun is ramping up activity as it progresses through its natural 11-year cycle, renewed attention shifts to monitoring the threat Delta-class sunspot AR3182 poses over the next week or more.
AR3182 continues to grow rapidly in size and complexity spanning more than 7 Earth diameters in width as it rotates across the Sun’s face.
Delta spots often produce eruptions for days on end and space weather forecasters think AR3182 has the potential to generate more strong flares. Its location puts Earth squarely in the line of fire for additional storm threats.
The daily updated solar storm outlook over the coming week will determine if any CMEs associated with flares erupting from AR3182 have trajectories putting them on a collision course with our planet.
That wraps up this breaking news report on the record-breaking solar flare NASA detected on New Year’s Eve and the strong geomagnetic storm it spawned. Stay tuned for further updates as the situation progresses over the next 24 hours.
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