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Massive solar flare erupts from sun, may bring northern lights to New England

Massive solar flare erupts from sun, may bring northern lights to New England
Massive solar flare erupts from sun, may bring northern lights to New England 01:11

BOSTON - Just after noon Thursday, a massive solar flare erupted on the surface of the sun. This flare was classified as an X2.8. 

What is an X class solar flare?

Flares are classified by their strength and range from B class (weakest) to C, M and X (strongest). Each step up in letter classification comes with a 10 fold increase in energy.

Also, within each letter, the scale is further broken down into numbers from 1 to 9 ... 1 being the weakest in the class and 9 the strongest.

X class flares can actually go higher than 9. This is a very rare occurrence but has happened in recent history including back in 2003 when an X class flare was originally thought to be an X17 but later was thought to be as high as X45.

Could this solar flare make the northern lights visible?

The sun's activity is measured in periods of about 11 years. It goes through quiet periods with very few sunspots known as solar minimums and then active periods known as solar maximums. We are currently in a maximum phase, Solar Cycle 25. You likely have heard us discussing some opportunities to see the northern lights in recent weeks, this occurs when a solar flare erupts and sends a CME (coronal mass ejection) toward Earth. These ejections travel very quickly, nearly 5 million miles per hour and can reach Earth in just a few days.

Thus far, we have had mostly weaker, M-class ejections which have led to spotty viewings of the northern lights in parts of the northern United States.

Thursday's flare was, by far, the strongest of this current solar cycle and likely the most powerful since 2017.

We have already seen some shortwave radio blackouts in parts of the United States from the tremendous amount of radiation that was emitted just a few hours ago.

It is still a bit too early to know the size, scope and heading of the coronal mass ejection, scientists are currently working to determine all of this. But, safe to say, there is a very good chance that a few days from now, there may be a dramatic increase in activity of the aurora borealis, perhaps even as far south as New England.

This flare was likely not strong enough to cause any major disruption to radio communications, power grids or spacecraft, but a lot is still being determined.

We will keep you updated as more information comes in.

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