International team capture detailed footage of an X-class solar flare

May 14, 2014 by Thomas Deane
Credit: NASA

(Phys.org) —Astrophysicists recently won the 'solar science lottery' as they were observing the skies just as one of the most energetic and rarest of solar eruptions took place. The international team, which included researchers from Trinity College Dublin, was able to record the rare event from multiple telescopes to build the most detailed picture yet of an 'X-class solar flare'.

From time to time, the Sun bombards the Earth with enormous blobs of solar plasma that are hurled toward us at speeds upward of 1000 kilometres per second. Upon impacting the Earth, the effects of these may include the polar aurorae (e.g. the northern lights), satellite malfunctions, rerouting of air traffic, and blackouts of radio, GPS, and power grids. Solar storms can be observed as solar flares, with the X-class flare being the most extreme. An X-class flare resulted in a 'geomagnetic storm' that caused a nine-hour blackout in Quebec, Canada, in 1989, while the aurorae were so pronounced that some people even worried that a nuclear strike had been launched.

On 29 March 2014, Dr Paul Higgins (Irish Research Council Research Fellow in Trinity's Astrophysics Research Group in the School of Physics) and an international group of scientists obtained the most detailed observations to date of an X-class . The huge solar eruption was recorded simultaneously from telescopes on the ground and in space. Dr Higgins is a flare prediction expert and assisted the New Mexico-based team by making an accurate forecast of the event. He also initiated a 'Major Flare Watch' hours beforehand, which put observatories across the globe on high-alert.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.

Dr Higgins said: "No one really knows what triggers these large flares to occur, partially because very few have been studied in detail. X-class flares occur less than once per month on average, and a year or more can pass without any occurring at all. Also, the core of the flare is limited to a 'tiny' area on the Sun (a few times the size of the Earth) and the field-of-view of many telescopes is equally small, so it is incredibly difficult to catch one of these events in action."

Led by Dr Lucia Kleint (Bay Area Environmental Research Institute), the team was observing the Sun at the National Solar Observatory (NSO) in New Mexico and managed to record the rare event with multiple instruments at the ground-based Dunn Solar Telescope. The team was able to measure the magnetic fields within the erupting structure, which is a critical part of the flare process.

Dr Higgins added: "This dataset provides unprecedented detail of the solar flare's evolution, from its onset in a region of just a few thousand kilometres right through its expansion into interplanetary space. By studying such large and rare events in detail, scientists hope to learn how to better predict future flare occurrences and protect our infrastructure and the lives of our pilots and astronauts."

Astronomer and co-observer Dr Kevin Reardon (National Solar Observatory) said: "This observation is unique – so rarely do all the conditions come together. Studying these data should give us a glimpse of what to expect when we try to capture these flares with much better spatial resolution using the twenty-five-times bigger Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope (DKIST) currently being built on Maui, Hawaii."

Explore further: Mid-level solar flare erupts from the Sun

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Mid-level solar flare erupts from the Sun

May 08, 2014

The sun emitted a mid-level solar flare, peaking at 6:07 a.m. EDT on May 8, 2014, and NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, captured images of it.

Sun emits a mid-level solar flare

Apr 18, 2014

The sun emitted a mid-level solar flare, peaking at 9:03 a.m. EDT on April 18, 2014, and NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured images of the event. Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation. Harmful ...

NASA telescopes coordinate best-ever flare observations

May 07, 2014

(Phys.org) —On March 29, 2014, an X-class flare erupted from the right side of the sun... and vaulted into history as the best-observed flare of all time. The flare was witnessed by four different NASA ...

NASA releases images of X-class solar flare

Mar 31, 2014

The sun emitted a significant solar flare, peaking at 1:48 p.m. EDT March 29, 2014, and NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured images of the event. Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation. Harmful ...

NASA releases images of M-class solar flare

Apr 02, 2014

On April 2, 2014, the sun emitted a mid-level solar flare, peaking at 10:05 a.m. EDT, and NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured imagery of the event. Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation. Harmful ...

NASA's SDO shows images of significant solar flare

Feb 25, 2014

The sun emitted a significant solar flare, peaking at 7:49 p.m. EST on Feb. 24, 2014. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, which keeps a constant watch on the sun, captured images of the event.

Recommended for you

NASA issues 'remastered' view of Jupiter's moon Europa

Nov 21, 2014

(Phys.org) —Scientists have produced a new version of what is perhaps NASA's best view of Jupiter's ice-covered moon, Europa. The mosaic of color images was obtained in the late 1990s by NASA's Galileo ...

European space plane set for February launch

Nov 21, 2014

Europe's first-ever "space plane" will be launched on February 11 next year, rocket firm Arianespace said Friday after a three-month delay to fine-tune the mission flight plan.

Space station rarity: Two women on long-term crew

Nov 21, 2014

For the 21st-century spacewoman, gender is a subject often best ignored. After years of training for their first space mission, the last thing Samantha Cristoforetti and Elana Serova want to dwell on is the ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.