Planet Talk

Solar Flares and Northern Lights

On Thursday, October 28, the sun fired off a solar flare, which had massive impacts. A solar flare is an eruption (typically brief) of high-energy radiation from the surface of the Sun. This radiation often causes electromagnetic disturbances on earth. In the case of Thursday’s solar flare, a blackout occurred across the sunlit side of South America. Solar flares are ranked by the following classes: C, M, and X, ranging from least powerful to most powerful. The flare on Thursday happened to be an X-class flare, and spawned a coronal mass ejection. A coronal mass ejection is an eruption of solar particles that often accompanies the most powerful flares. The sunspot responsible for this solar flare also produced two M-class flares earlier in the day.

This graphic of the solar flare this week was taken by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory and shows the class X1 solar flare erupting from the sun.

Along with the blackout effects of the solar flare, it has the possibility of causing northern lights to display in parts of Northern United States on Halloween night. The cloud of charged particles from the sun is expected to arrive on Halloween weekend, amplifying the regular northern lights caused by the sun’s solar wind. Although extremely rare to see the Aurora borealis in the United States, due to the solar flare, NASA has predicted this phenomenon across several cities and states, including New York, Idaho, Illinois, Oregon, Maryland, and Nevada. Other countries, including Russia, Scotland, and Canada, were already able to view these stunning lights on October 30th.

The northern lights are seen Saturday over Teriberka, a village on the Russian Arctic coast.
An image of the northern lights seen over Teriberka, Russia


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