The sun erupted for the second time in less than 24 hours Monday morning, releasing the most powerful solar flare so far of 2013.
Monday’s solar flare, which peaked at 9 a.m. Pacific time, came just 14 hours after the second largest solar flare of 2013, which occurred on Sunday evening.
A solar flare is a huge explosion in the sun’s atmosphere that sends out a burst of radiation. The Earth’s atmosphere protects us from that radiation, but some satellites could be affected.
Monday’s solar flare is classified as an X2.8, according to NASA. Sunday’s solar flare was an X1.7.
In the language of solar flare watchers, an X class solar flare is the largest type of solar flare. An X2 is twice as powerful as an X1, and an X3 is three times as powerful, etc.
The Sunday solar flare was the first X-class solar flare of 2013.
Both solar flares originated from sunspots that are just hidden from view on the left-hand side of the sun. These spots will be visible from Earth in a few days however, thanks to the sun’s rotation.
Both solar flares were also associated with coronal mass ejections, which can send billions of tons of solar material hurtling through space at speeds of hundreds of miles per second.
The coronal mass ejections were not directed at Earth however, but the people who work on the solar imaging satellite STEREO-B and the Spitzer spacecraft have been put on notice that the side of the coronal mass ejections may brush past them, interfering with their operations.
There’s no need to worry about the sun’s increase in eruptions. In a statement reelased Monday, NASA says that the increased number of solar flares is expected as the sun moves toward the peak of its 11-year solar cycle--solar maximum--in 2013.
So far this solar cycle, there have been a total of 16 X-class flares including Sunday and Monday’s flares. The largest X-class flare of this cycle was a whopping X6.9, which took place on Aug. 9, 2011.
Monday’s solar flare was the third strongest flare of this solar cycle.