The Sun Just Sprung an X-Class Flare. The Most Powerful since 2017

Our wild star produced its first X-class solar cycle 25 flare on 3 July 2021 at 14:29 UTC (10.29 EDT). It was the strongest flare we have seen since September 2017.

X-class flares, which are the most powerful solar eruptions of our star host star, are the strongest. The record-breaking X28 in November 2003 was the most powerful.

The new flare was not as intense at X1.5, but it still produced pulse X-rays which hit the upper atmosphere, causing a radio blackout over the Atlantic Ocean.
Prior to this one, the most recent X class flare occurred in September 2017. The Sun erupted with an X8.2 solar flare.

This is a sign that the cycle is becoming more active, as well as an increase in the coronal loops plasma arcing up to above the Sun’s surface.

While the Sun may seem pretty consistent in our daily view from Earth, a longer-term perspective reveals dynamic activity. The solar cycle is a part of this.

This is due to the Sun’s magnetic fields, which rotate every 11 years. The north and south magnetic poles switch places. Although it is not clear what causes these cycles, recent research suggests that they are driven by an 11.07-year planetary alignment. However, the poles change when the magnetic field is weakest. This is also known as the solar minima.

This stage of the cycle is characterized by minimal activity because the Sun’s magnetic field controls its activity.

The magnetic field becomes stronger once the poles switch. Solar activity then rises to a maximum, before it subsides for the next polar switch. We can expect the Sun to get rowdier over the next months and years. It will peak at its maximum around July 2025, as the December 2019 solar minimum.

There are many solar maxima, and not all of them are equal. It is therefore unclear whether we will experience a strong or weak cycle. Solar Cycle 24’s peak was at 114 sunspots. This is an average sunspot count for maximums. NASA and NOAA predicted that Solar Cycle 25 would be similar with a peak of only 115 sunspots. However, other scientists predicted the exact opposite, one of the strongest solar maxima recorded.

It took Solar Cycle 24 almost twice as long to see the first X class flare. We won’t be able to determine if this is significant until after the solar maximum of Solar Cycle 25.

What does this all mean for Earth? We can see some effects from a coronal mass ejection or solar flare that is directed in the direction of Earth’s direction. Our atmosphere protects us from radiation.

However, for stronger flares (like the one of 3 Jul), and weaker, M class flares, there can be disruptions in the atmosphere layers that transmit communications signals. Radio communications and navigation systems may be disrupted. Power grids can be shut down in extreme cases, but this happens very rarely.

Material from the Sun can also cause auroras on Earth. This is because particles react with gases in the atmosphere of our planet to create the glowing phenomenon.

2838 was the sunspot responsible for the M2 flare. It formed overnight from nowhere. Since then, it has moved out of sight to the far side of the Sun, where perhaps it is still active. It will be interesting to see if it returns in a few days.

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