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Cosmic spectacle: NASA captures most powerful solar flare in many years

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The flare also unleashed a coronal mass ejection, an immense cloud of magnetised particles powerful enough to knock out communications on Earth.

A NASA telescope has captured the biggest solar flare – an immense pulse of high-energy radiation – managing to shine a rare spotlight on one of the most destructive yet little-known powers in the universe.

The solar flare was recorded earlier this month when it briefly knocked out radio communication on Earth.

The flare from the Sun – the closest star to Earth – was categorised under X class, the most potent among the three categories, with C being the weakest and M in the middle.

Solar flares are triggered when magnetic fields on the Sun’s surface break and emit plasma into space.

While a solar flare is a brilliant flash of light, it can unleash another phenomenon called the coronal mass ejection, an immense cloud of magnetised particles hurled into space, sometimes toward Earth.

The latest cosmic event is also said to have unleashed a CME that is believed to have an “Earth-directed component” and is moving at over 2,100 km/s (4.7 million mph).

The solar flare is believed to have occurred on the Sun’s surface 93m miles away and hit communications networks due to its magnitude.

Such incidents also pose a risk to power systems, navigational signals and spacecraft.

Eye in the sky

The NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft, which has been around since 2010 orbiting Earth and monitoring the Sun, recorded the incident in high ultraviolet light.

The outburst appeared as an incredible concentration of high energy radiation or bright flash, more commonly known as a solar flare.

The eruption reportedly occurred in the Sun’s far northwesterly area at 12.02 pm EST.

Most X-class solar flares are typically graded from 1-9, while the recent phenomena were graded X2.8.

The incident is understood to be the most powerful solar flare since September 2017, according to, an online outlet dedicated to space exploration, astronomy and skywatching.

As well as hitting swathes of the US, it also reportedly struck other sunlit parts of the globe.

Monitoring the Sun

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric and Administration’s space weather prediction centre labelled the phenomena as “amazing”.

The organisation added it was the biggest flare in the last six years, while the radio burst was profound and impacted higher frequencies.

Numerous pilots said they experienced disruptions to communications.

Researchers are keeping close tabs on the outburst of plasma that could be directed towards Earth.

Scientists say it can lead to geomagnetic storms that impact high-frequency radio signals at higher latitudes and trigger northern lights.

Monitoring the Sun and solar flares is integral to space weather forecasting.

The potential implications of these flares can extend from disrupting satellite communications and power grids to threatening astronaut safety.

The Sun is said to be reaching the peak of its solar cycle, which typically takes around 11 years, while a high sunspot is actively forecast in a couple of years.

On November 28, a large flare erupted from a dark patch near the Sun’s equator.

Solar flares have reportedly become more common and intense throughout this year. There have been 11 X-class flares since January, equating to more than the last five years.

NASA is also working on AI-generated predictions that could give time to the scientific community time to prepare for solar storms.

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