by Brandon Mercer

(CBS SF) — From the surface of the sun, massive solar flares have been exploding out several million miles into space over the past few weeks, with the latest blast coming on November 5th at 1:47 a.m. Pacific time.

The flare pictured here is a “mid-level” flare, on a scale ranging from A, B, C, M, and the most powerful, X-class flares.

The recent flare was captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory or SDO, showing extreme ultraviolet light, and then colorizing it in red and gold.

This flare was an M7.9-class flare. M-class flares are a tenth the size of the most intense flares, the X-class flares. The number provides more information about its strength. An M2 is twice as intense as an M1, an M3 is three times as intense, etc.

Just two weeks ago, a series of three massive solar flares bathed Earth in higher than normal amounts of radiation, with the potential to temporarily black out radio communication and navigational equipment if the sun was hitting that part of the planet.

The atmosphere absorbs the harmful radiation from these classes of events, but the upper radio communication that relies on the ionosphere can be significantly effected. One legendary solar flare in 1989 actually shut down power grids in the U.S. and Canada. That was an “X15” class flare.

An X1.6 class flare erupted on October 21st. X is the strongest class, and an X2 is twice as strong as an X1.

An M-class or mid-level solar flare peaked at 6:59 p.m. October 21st, as measured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory.

A third flare, an X1.1 on October 19th also sent radiation toward earth.

These solar eruptions can trigger larger than usual northern lights also known as the Aurora Borealis, sometimes making the glow visible as far south as Northern California.

Get alerts, see images, and learn what the X-scale means for solar energy at NOAA’s Solar Flare site.


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