An active sunspot erupted with a solar flare on February 25, 2014. The sunspot, currently designated AR11990, is on its third trip around the sun since originally being tracked. AR11990’s trip around the sun is approximately 27 days. A high-definition video of the Sun’s recent solar flare was captured by NASA’s SDO mission.
NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) was the first mission launched under the Living With a Star Program. The LWS program was created to research, observe, and better understand the Sun’s influence on the space around Earth and on Earth itself. The mission will be used to understand the reasons behind solar variability and how they directly impact Earth. SDO was launched on Feb. 11, 2010 from Cape Canaveral and has been observing the Sun, solar atmosphere, magnetic fields, the solar corona, and detailed information about how stored energy is converted into solar wind and other deviations of solar irradiance.
SDO was able to record the massive solar flare which erupted from the sun for NASA. The flare was combined with a large burst of plasma which is termed a coronal mass ejection (CME). The eruption occurred just after the sunspot returned to face Earthside again on Feb. 25. The sunspot produced the largest flare of the year, an X4.9 class solar flare which denotes the most powerful class of solar flares and storms. Because the area had just come into view, the spot was not pointing directly at Earth. Had the area been more in line with Earth, serious damage could have been caused by a geomagnetic storm.
The area of sunspot AR11990 will be rotating more directly in line with Earth over the next several days. This appears to be a fairly active area which has produced two other X-class solar flares as well as a number of mid-level and smaller ones. An X-class flare denotes the most intense type of eruption while the number indicates the actual strength of the flare. An X2 signifies that the burst was twice as intense as an X1 while an X4 such as this one, is more than four times as intense. Sunspots generally do not remain stable for more than several weeks but there have been some that have been around for months.
Observers will continue to track this sunspot’s area for more activity. If another X-class solar eruption transpires while AR11990 is in line with Earth a severe geomagnetic storm could occur. A geomagnetic storm could impair satellites and harm astronauts in orbit. One such storm in January caused a delay in the launch of a cargo ship bound for the International Space Station. Other such delays or problems could be on the horizon if another solar eruption with a similar magnitude happens.
SDO will continue to observe the sun for solar flares and other data for NASA. When another eruption takes place, the information will be on hand for observers, researchers and scientists. The data will determine if Earth is in any imminent danger from those flares or any corresponding CMEs. Through continuous data collection, the Solar Dynamics Observatory through the Living With a Star Program will continue to study how solar activity and the resultant space weather occurs.
By Dee Mueller