A powerful X-class solar flare shot out from the sun on Tuesday afternoon, causing a radio blackout over the U.S. and Central America.
The X1.1 flare lasted for just over 30 minutes, peaking at 1:09 p.m. ET.
“The X-factor is Back!” space weather physicist Tamitha Skov said in a tweet. “Expect HF [high frequency radio] communications & GPS reception to be impacted over the next hour, especially Europe, West Africa, Canada, USA, Mexico, and Hawaii.”
The X-factor is Back! Region 3341 fires an X1.1-flare. R3-level radio blackout now on Earth's dayside. Expect HF communications & GPS reception to be impacted over the next hour, especially Europe, West Africa, Canada, USA, Mexico, and Hawaii (colored regions in map). pic.twitter.com/RdDQ1dDMNM— Dr. Tamitha Skov (@TamithaSkov) June 20, 2023
The blackouts mostly affect civil aviation and shipping traffic.
Solar flares are powerful ejections of electromagnetic radiation, usually in the form of X-rays, caused by sudden releases of energy from the sun’s surface.
They are usually emitted from sunspots and occur when magnetic fields in these areas become entangled or reorganized.
These outbursts of energy can be classified according to their strength. “The weakest are the A-class flares, followed in intensity by the B-class, C-class, M-class—these are ‘moderate’—and the X-class,” Gonzalo José Carracedo Carballal, an astrophysics researcher at the Instituto Nacional de Técnica in Madrid, explained.
According to SpaceWeatherLive, X-class flares only occur about 10 times a year and can be
Describing yesterday’s X-class flare, the Sun Today, a space weather news site and social media page run by solar scientist Alex Young, had one word: “KaBoom!!”
Ryan French, a British solar physicist, said that yesterday’s flare was the first X-class solar flare since March.
Solar flares of this magnitude typically accompany large expulsions of solar plasma, known as coronal mass ejections or CMEs.
When directed towards Earth, these can reach our planet in a matter of hours, although slower ejections can take several days to arrive.
On arrival, these bursts can cause geomagnetic storms and power cuts.
If the CME from yesterday’s activity reaches the Earth it will likely be felt on Friday evening, SpaceWeatherLive said in a tweet.
However, it added that, if the cloud arrives, we would expect “only limited impact.”
The solar propulsion originated from sunspot region AR13341, which is not directly facing our planet. Therefore the resulting CME is likely to be largely directed away from Earth.
Solar flares are the largest explosive events in our solar system. “A solar flare is around a million times stronger than a nuclear bomb,” Jesse Woodroffe, a program scientist in the Heliophysics Division at NASA HQ, previously stated.
However, a nuclear explosion is highly localized in both time and space. The same cannot be said for solar flares. The energy is instead spread out across vast distances and absorbed by the Earth’s atmosphere.
This energy absorption can prevent radio signals from getting to their intended targets, bouncing them back towards the ground and causing radio blackouts, like the one seen yesterday above the U.S.