On December 14 at 12:02 pm EST, a class X solar flare hit Earth interfering with radio signals. Our sun is extremely powerful holding over 44 quadrillion watts of power. The average power plant only produces about 1 billion watts of energy, So it would about 44 million power plants to equal the power of the sun. That immense amount of energy comes with solar flares. A solar flare is an extremely powerful burst of energy and radiation. Solar flares can be seen with a telescope and a specialized lens to view the sun, they are seen as bright spots and can last from just a few minutes to a few hours. Solar flares can be categorized into five different classes A, B, C, M, and X, with A being the smallest and X being the most powerful. Each of the classes has nine subdivisions ranging from one to nine to enable a more accurate representation of how powerful each solar flare was. So the most powerful Solar flare would be an X9 and the least powerful would be an A1. The Solar flare that hit Earth on the 14th was a class X2.8 which is the most powerful Solar flare since 2017 when a class X9.3 hit on September 6th. The largest Solar flare in recent years was on October 28th, 2003 when an X17 solar flare hit Earth. The solar flare was so powerful that about 60% of all the satellites orbiting Earth were damaged in one way or another, with most of them being lost entirely. Researchers have dubbed that event “the Halloween Storms.” Often the larger solar flares come with a coronal mass ejection, or CME. A coronal mass ejection is an event where the sun ejects a large amount of plasma going millions of miles per hour. For reference, the 2003 solar flare was moving at about 1320 miles per second or about 4.7 million mph. The coronal mass ejections come from its corona or the outermost layer of the sun. When a coronal mass ejection hits Earth, depending on how powerful it is, it can spawn a geomagnetic storm which can disrupt, power grids, radio signals, and other infrastructure. Specifically, a geomagnetic storm is when a major disturbance of Earth's magnetosphere occurs. Geomagnetic storms also have the ability to supercharge auroras making them much more vibrant and visible. The class X2.8 Solar flare that hit Earth last Thursday caused a shortwave radio blackout throughout the Americas. Most damage from solar flares and CME’s are prevented by the earth's magnetic field but some stuff can still be disrupted like GPS, radio signals, and satellite communications. The sun is on an 11-year cycle when it comes to solar activity. The cycle itself is the change in the sun's magnetic field but this can cause solar activity such as solar flares to be more or less extreme. Scientists from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predict that the next peak will be between January and October of next year.
NASA. (n.d.). What is a solar flare? https://www.nasa.gov/image-article/what-solar-flare/#:~:text=Credit%3A%20ESA%20%26%20NASA%2FSOHO,last%20from%20minutes%20to%20hours.
Phillips, / Dr.Tony. (2021, October 29). The day Earth lost half its satellites (Halloween storms 2003). Spaceweather.com. https://spaceweatherarchive.com/2021/10/28/the-day-earth-lost-half-its-satellites-halloween-storms-2003/
Wall, M. (2023, December 14). Sun Unleashes Monster X-class Solar Flare, most powerful since 2017 (video). Space.com. https://www.space.com/sun-x-flare-december-2023-most-powerful-since-2017
Owen Dustin is a sophomore at Poudre High School. This is his first year writing for the Poudre Press. At school, he is on the Alpine Robotics team and the unified flag football team. Outside of school he likes to mountain bike, play video games, and hang out with friends.