Flaring up! NASA’s SDO captures two significant solar flares

New Delhi: The sun is an enigmatic entity that has long since intrigued scientists and understanding the largest star in our solar system has been one of their priorities.

Time and again, US space agency NASA has released videos and images of the luminous body spewing solar material and oozing plasma on its surface, which makes one wonder what other secrets the gigantic ball of fire may be holding.

NASA’s solar observatories are forever at work trying to decipher the ball of fire’s smallest of flares. On the morning of September 6, 2017, the sun emitted two significant solar flares, which NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) managed to capture.

The first peaked at 5:10 am EDT and the second, larger flare, peaked at 8:02 am EDT, NASA said.

Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation. Harmful radiation from a flare cannot pass through Earth’s atmosphere to physically affect humans on the ground, however — when intense enough — they can disturb the atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communications signals travel.

These radiation flares can disrupt communications satellites, GPS and power grids by reaching the upper Earth atmosphere.

According to the Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC), these so-called category X eruptions disrupted high-frequency radio communications for one hour on the Earth’s side facing the sun and low-frequency communications used in navigation.

The two eruptions occurred in an active region of the sun where an eruption of average intensity occurred on September 4. The current cycle of the sun, which began in December 2008, saw the intensity of solar activity decline sharply, opening the way to the “solar minimum.”

Solar cycles last on average eleven years. At the end of the active phase, these eruptions become increasingly rare but still can be powerful.

Solar storms result from an accumulation of magnetic energy in some places.

These jets of ionized matter are projected – at high speed into and beyond the crown of the sun – hundreds of thousands of kilometers outward.