The Sun Just Spat Out Its Biggest Flare Since 2017

02 Juin, 2020, 04:49 | Auteur: Therese Cote
  • The Sun produces biggest solar flare in three years in sign of increased activity

The NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) spotted the "strongest flare since October 2017" on May 29, suggesting it may be entering a new solar cycle. The researchers believe that we are in the midst of a solar minimum right now, so observing new sunspots and eruptions might seem odd, but as Spaceweather The newly identified features reportedly disappeared so quickly that observers didn't even have time to catalog them, suggesting that the solar minimum is still in full swing.

"As the Sun moves through its natural 11-year cycle, in which its activity rises and falls, sunspots rise and fall in number". They are associated with solar flares-sudden explosions caused by changes to these magnetic fields. Experts can generally foresee when this is going to take place, but it's actually incredibly hard to assess it to smaller than a period of a few months. With the current data in hand, the only thing that can be said with certainty is that during the month of may, there have been more sunspots than during the previous months.

Eruptions increase during the cycle with solar flares like the recent one detected by NASA, as well as "coronal mass ejections", where the sun shoots out plasma, becoming more frequent.

The Sun seems pretty consistent to us here on Earth on a day-to-day basis, but over the years, astronomers have ascertained that it actually goes through 11-year activity cycles, with a clearly defined minimum and maximum. NASA officials have said that the larger flare could be an indication that the solar cycle is becoming more active.

For that reason, it could be up to six months before NASA knows whether the Sun's solar activity is increasing from the group of sunspots. At time of writing, there had been 30 consecutive days with no sunspots.

"Just because the sunspot numbers go up or down in a given month doesn't mean it won't reverse course the next month, only to go back again the month after that".

It means that solar minimum is only recognisable after the fact - you can't say "we're now in solar minimum" as it takes up to 12 months to confirm - by which point we would be out of solar minimum.

Which is why scientists need long-term data to build a picture of the trends the Sun is now going through to decide if it is entering the next cycle.

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'Meaning that right now, we can confidently characterize what October 2019 looks like compared to the months before it (there were definitely fewer sunspots!), but not yet what November looks like compared to that, ' NASA said.

They compose an M-class flare, which is the second strongest flare classification.

The flare in question, therefore, is of medium intensity, and in addition was not emitted in the direction of Earth, so you will not have any effect on our planet. The solar flare can be seen on the upper left side of the image.

'Interesting times and possibly a historic moment if this indeed is the first M-class event of the new Solar Cycle, ' said SpaceWeatherLive.com.

The beginning of a solar cycle is a solar minimum, or when the sun has the least sunspots.

Sun spots increase until the middle of the cycle, known as the solar maximum, before decreasing in time as the cycle returns to the solar minimum.

The solar minimum, by contrast, is a period of time when the Sun is fairly calm.

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