Sun's surface is marked by electrically charged gases that keep generating powerful magnetic forces. Their area of influence is called magnetic fields. As these gases are dynamic, they continuously stretch and twist the magnetic fields. Sometimes, this tangling of magnetic fields causes a sudden explosion of energy called solar flares. These flares, if strong enough, can have effects on Earth, including radio blackouts, so scientists regularly monitor them. Now, NASA has captured the Sun emitting a mid-level solar flare using its Solar Dynamics Observatory and shared an image of the stunning event on its Instagram page.
NASA classified it as an M5.5 class flare, which is of moderate severity. The agency said that the Sun emitted the solar flare on January 20 and it peaked around 1:01am EST (11:31am IST). Solar flares have the potential to impact radio communications, electric power grids, navigation signals, and pose risks to spacecraft and astronauts. They usually take place in active regions, marked by the strong presence of magnetic fields. As these magnetic fields evolve, they can reach a point of instability and release energy in many forms, including electromagnetic radiation, which is what is observed as solar flares. Solar flares occur in active regions and are often, but not always, accompanied by coronal mass ejections.
NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory monitors the Sun with a fleet of spacecraft that study everything related to the Sun, its atmosphere, and the particles and magnetic fields in the space surrounding Earth.
Last month, NASA warned about swirling Sun debris created by a solar storm hitting the Earth, resulting in an aurora (a natural light display on Earth's sky). There was also a possibility of mild disturbance to radio and GPS services. But nothing major was reported then. Solar storms are not a new phenomenon and occur at periodic intervals. The time taken by a solar storm to reach Earth depends on its intensity. They can travel at breakneck speeds and reach Earth 15–18 hours after the ejection.