Since early last week, the Sun has belched out a steady stream of solar flares, including the most powerful burst recorded in the star’s current 11-year cycle. It sounds very alarming, but scientists say this is simply what stars do every now and then, and that there’s nothing to be concerned about.
Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation that stream out into space after periods of sunspot-associated magnetic activity. Sunspots are surface features that occasional form owing to the strong magnetic field lines that come up from within the Sun and pierce through the solar surface. Solar flares are the largest explosive events in the Solar System, producing bright flashes that last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours. Earth’s atmosphere protects us from most of their harmful rays, but this radiation can disturb GPS, radio, and communications signals, particularly near our planet’s polar regions.
On Sunday September 10, 2017,NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory recorded an X8.2 class flare. Class X flares are the most intense flares, and the number attached to it denotes its strength, where X2 is twice as intense as X1, and X3 is three times as intense, and so on. M class flares are a tenth the size of X-class flares and C-class flares are the weakest of the bunch. Both X and M class flares can cause brief radio blackouts on Earth, and other mild technological disruptions. Unless it’s part of an unusually strong solar storm—the kind that happens about once every one hundred years—in