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Solar Flares
A solar flare is an intense flash of extreme radiation emanating from the Sun.
Solar flares are classified as A, B, C, M or X (ranged from small to large).

Solar flares can produce streams of highly energetic particles in the solar wind, known as a solar proton event, or "coronal mass ejection" (CME).
At high levels (proton-flux above 10 particles >= 10 MeV) we speak of a Solar Radiation Storm.
These particles can impact the Earth's magnetosphere and can cause a geomagnetic storm. Such storms can interfere with modern technology on Earth, such as electrical power grids, communications systems and satellites.

Geomagnetic Field status:

  • Quiet: the Geomagnetic Field is quiet (Kp < 4)
  • Active: the Geomagnetic Field has been unsettled (Kp=4)
  • Storm: A Geomagnetic Storm has occurred (Kp>4)
NASA predicts that the current solar cycle 24 will peak in early or mid 2013 with about 59 sunspots. This would make it the least active cycle in the past one hundred years. The International Space Environment Service predicts the cycle to peak at 90 sunspots in August 2013.


Latest view on the Sun's corona
These images are taken by LASCO (Large Angle Spectrometric Coronagraph). The direct light from the Sun is blocked so that the corona which otherwise would be hidden in the Sun's bright glare can be resolved.
Left image shows the inner solar corona up to 8.4 million kilometers (5.25 million miles) away from the Sun. Right image has a larger field of view: it encompass 32 diameters of the Sun. To put this in perspective, the diameter of the images is 45 million kilometers (about 30 million miles) at the distance of the Sun. Many bright stars can be seen behind the Sun.

Can I see a Solar flare?
Most of the energy of solar flares goes to frequencies outside the visual range and for this reason the majority of the flares are not visible to the naked eye and must be observed with special instruments, like GOES (see live image above).

Which flare class?
Red graph on the left shows the current flare class. Solar flares are classified as A, B, C, M or X (ranged from small to large). Each class has a peak flux ten times greater than the preceding one, with X class flares having a peak flux of order 10-4 W/m2. Within a class there is a linear scale from 1 to 9, so an X2 flare is twice as powerful as an X1 flare, and is four times more powerful than an M5 flare.


Viewing the Aurora!
Being able to see the Aurora depends (besides darkness around you) mainly on two factors, geomagnetic activity (the degree of disturbance of the earth's magnetic field at the time) and your geographic location.
In order to know whether you have a chance of seeing an aurora, you need to know the level of geomagnetic activity at the time you are viewing.

There is a simple index called Kp, a number from 0 to 9, which is used to refer to geomagnetic activity for a 3-hour period.
If the Kp-Index > 4 (see graph on the left) and the Auroral Activity Level in your area is high (see image below) there is a good chance of viewing the aurora.


Aurora forecast, red line indicates how far away viewers on the ground might see the aurora

Proton Flux
Proton flux measurements made by the GOES 13 satellite. Watch the red line to see if a Solar Radiation Storm has occured. A Solar Radiation Storm can trigger a geomagnetic storm when it hits the Earth magnetic field.
  • S1: (dashed line) 101 particles >10MeV, minor storm
  • S2: 102 particles >10MeV, moderate storm
  • S3: 103 particles >10MeV, strong storm
  • S4: 104 particles >10MeV, severe storm
  • S5: 105 particles >10MeV, extreme storm
Average Frequency of a S1 storm: 50 per 11-year cycle.
Average Frequency of a S5 storm: less than 1 per 11-year cycle.