Solar flare eruption watched by NASA probes

This close-up of a moderate solar flare on Aug. 24, 2014, shows light in the 131 and 171 Angstrom wavelengths. The former wavelength, usually colorized in teal, highlights the extremely hot material of a flare. The latter, usually colorized in gold, highlights magnet loops in the sun's atmosphere.


NASA caught some dramatic shots of a solar flare in the act of erupting last week.

NASA says the sun emitted a mid-level solar flare with some ejection of particles - a coronal mass ejection (CME) - on Aug. 24. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory and the Solar and Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) captured images of the flare on the left side of the sun.

Solar flares are powerful bursts of light and X-ray radiation. Light and X-rays from a flare reach Earth in 8 minutes, but are blocked from reaching the ground by the Earth's atmosphere. It does not harm people or animals.

However, if the Earth is in the path of very intense flares and CMEs, the solar activity can disrupt GPS and communications satellite signals in our upper atmosphere. Very intense flares are called X-class flares; NASA classified the one on Aug. 24 as a far more moderate "M5 flare." M-class flares are ten times less powerful than X-class ones.

In other space weather news, a larger CME was detected on the back side of the sun yesterday. An earth facing CME takes 3 the 5 days to reach our planet. NOAA is tracking this "space weather" event to see if it might disrupt any satellite communications.