NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) has captured images of a mid-level solar flare that looks a bit like a heart in pictures. The new images reveal a bit more about this flare and allow scientists to track how this event may impact Earth.
In this case, the flare peaked at 8:29 p.m. on Sunday, April 17. Solar flares themselves are powerful bursts of radiation. While the harmful radiation can't pass through Earth's atmosphere, though, flares that are intense enough can disturb the atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communications signals travel.
This latest flare did just that. In fact, researchers reported moderate radio blackouts during the peak of the flare. These radio blackouts are usually only ongoing during the course of the flare and, as a result, have since subsided.
Solar flares are given different classifications depending on how strong they are. In this case, the solar flare was classified as a M6.7 class flare. M-class flares are mid-level flares. They're a tenth of the size of the strongest flares, which are classified as X-class flares. In addition, the number that a solar flare is classified with shows how strong it is within its class. As an example, a M2 flare is twice as strong as an M1, and a M3 is three times as intense.
The solar flare actually came from an area of complex magnetic activity on the sun, known as an active region. In this case, the region was labelled Active Region 2529. This particular area has a large, dark spot, which is known as a sunspot. As this spot slowly makes its way across the sun's face, it changes both its size and shape.
In fact, this sunspot was actually visible from the ground without magnification over the past week-and-a-half. It's currently large enough to be able to hold almost five Earths inside of it. It's expected that the sunspot will rotate out of view over the right side of the sun by April 20.
The new images captured by the SDO reveal a bit more about solar flares, as well as sunspots. More specifically, they provide researchers with more data in order to predict them a bit better.