A medium-sized solar flare briefly blocked shortwave radio Tuesday (Feb. 7).
The active sun fired off several solar flares in recent days, with one causing a momentary lapse in shortwave communications over the Pacific Ocean at 6:07 p.m. EST (2307 GMT), according to SpaceWeather.com (opens in new tab).
The originating area is a huge Earth-facing sunspot, AR3213, which currently stretches across 62,000 miles (100,000 km) of the surface of the sun. Magnetic tangling in the sunspot caused the lines to "snap," firing off charged solar particles towards our planet via a medium-class (M6) flare.
Related: Strange unprecedented vortex spotted around the sun's north pole
The sun is climbing towards a peak in its 11-year cycle that it should reach in 2025. There's ample evidence of the sun firing off flares already in pictures and videos from sun-gazing satellites, like NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory. These were shared extensively by users on Twitter.
A DOUBLE M FLARE: Sunspot region 2213 just produced an M4 flare, peaking at 22:58 UT, followed less than 10 minutes later by an M6 flare pic.twitter.com/6VwtogHNhGFebruary 8, 2023
This filament eruption from today gives us a fascinating view of the filament's cool, dense plasma being lifted through the hot, tenuous corona as it is trapped within an insulating magnetic flux rope. Shown here is a combination of 171 and 304 Å imagery from SDO/AIA. 1/2 pic.twitter.com/MKtOmoH6AOFebruary 7, 2023
SPECTACULAR M1 FLARE: It has been over a week since we had an M flare but this one was worth waiting for. It came from behind the east limb of the Sun (so was much larger than M1). Note its size compared to our puny Earth (inset). More likely to come as this comes over the E limb pic.twitter.com/pH8AnVFSp0February 7, 2023
pic.twitter.com/VknBgzPBCRFebruary 7, 2023
Most solar activity is harmless and just causes brief interruptions in shortwave, but the sun is able to generate more powerful bursts of energy that can knock out satellites or other infrastructure.
As such, NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) partner with entities around the world to keep a 24/7 watch on our solar neighbor through telescopes, satellites and other observations in multiple wavelengths.
Burgeoning science also seeks to better understand how solar activity originates. For example, NASA's Parker Solar Probe and ESA's Solar Orbiter both swoop within a close range of the sun to sample the solar wind of particles that stream through the solar system, and to examine solar structures and the sun's atmosphere up close.
Elizabeth Howell is the co-author of "Why Am I Taller (opens in new tab)?" (ECW Press, 2022; with Canadian astronaut Dave Williams), a book about space medicine. Follow her on Twitter @howellspace (opens in new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or Facebook (opens in new tab).