NASA sun-watchers have reported that the Sun has released another M-class solar flare, causing a moderate radio blackout on the morning of July 5.
Astronomers have been watching Active Region 1515, a particular sunspot complex on the surface of the Sun, which is currently moving across the Earth-facing side of the Sun. Sunspots are caused by regions of magnetic activity on the surface of the Sun, which are capable of causing eruptions of energy and particles which potentially affect the Earth. Since, July 3, astronomers have watched region 1515 emit 12 M-class flares. The strongest flares are called X-class, while M-class rank second. The NASA release notes that Thursday’s M-class flare was about half as strong as the weakest of the X-class flares.
July 5’s flare occurred around 7:44 AM EDT, and caused disruption to the layer of charged particles surrounding the Earth, called the ionosphere. High energy X-rays and UV light from the flare can cause continuous changes in the ionosphere, deflecting radio waves as they travel through it. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) classifies radio disruptions on a five-point scale, from R1 to R5, with R5 being the greatest disruption. Thursday’s flare qualified as an R2.
The NASA release notes that the radio disruption has since subsided.
According to the site SpaceWeather.com, solar activity is already at high levels, and NASA researchers continue to keep an eye on region 1515, and estimate an 80 percent chance that the region will produce more flares over the next 24 hours. The NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center also predicts geomagnetic activity on July 8 as highly-charged particles from two recent coronal mass ejections reach the Earth; such activity may lead to radio disruption and auroral displays at high latitudes.
Researchers with NASA and other agency’s monitor the Sun with both earth-based instruments and spacecraft such as the Solar Dynamics Observatory, which continuously monitors the Sun for signs of activity.