The sun unleashed its first significant solar flare of 2015 on Monday night, triggering a short-lived radio blackout for some parts the Earth, space weather experts say.
The mid-sized flare solar flare peaked at 11:24 p.m. EST (0424 GMT) on Jan. 12 and prompted a temporary radio blackout for some regions of the sunlit parts of Earth during that lasted tens of minutes, according to an update from the U.S. Space Weather Prediction Group. NASA's sun-watching Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) captured video of the solar flare in multiple wavelengths of light.
In an image captured by SDO, the bright pop of light can be seen on the upper right side of the sun. Also seen in the image are what appear to be loops of light that rise up out of the sun's surface. These loops are created by the tumultuous magnetic field lines in the sun. The arcing loops connect the negative and positive ends of an active magnetic region.
Solar flares are our solar system's largest explosive events, according to NASA. The Jan. 12 solar flare has been classified as an M5.6-class sun storm.
"M-class flares are a tenth the size of the most intense flares, the X-class flares," according to a statement from NASA. "The number provides more information about its strength. An M2 is twice as intense as an M1, an M3 is three times as intense, etc."
Solar flares eject large amounts of photons that can potentially do harm to satellites orbiting the Earth. But the biggest solar threat to human-made technology are coronal mass ejections (CMEs), which can hurl billions of tons of solar matter away from the sun, traveling at several million miles per hour. These powerful particles can damage satellites and spacecraft, and can even do damage to power grids on Earth. Solar flares and CME's are sometimes associated, but can also occur independently.
NASA's SDO satellites are monitoring the sun around the clock, and keep an eye out for threatening solar events. The Jan. 12 solar flare does not appear to be associated with a CME.