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17 January 2005
Active Region 10720 continues to produce extremely energetic solar flare activity. The largest flare from this region to date occurred at 09:52 UTC on 17 January when the region spawned an impressive and very long duration (over 3 hours) X3.8 solar x-ray flare. The solar flare produced intense radio emissions across the spectrum. The emissions at 10 cm wavelengths were more than 80 times louder than the normal background noise of the Sun, measuring 12,000 sfu! Near-relativistic (travelling near the speed of light) energetic protons from this event began arriving at the Earth near 10:00 UTC and will further increase space radiation levels at orbital altitudes. There is a risk of a category S3 space radiation storm that could (if it materializes) result in increased charging related anomalies on orbiting spacecraft. It may also enhance the ambient radiation environment for passengers and crew of commercial airlines operating in high latitude regions. If S3 levels are achieved, a low-level radiation enhancement equivalent to approximately one chest x-ray may be observed for these personell.
Kanzelhohe Solar Observatory in Austria captured the full beauty of this solar flare in the light of hydrogen through the real-time Global Solar Flare Patrol service (www.spacew.com/sunnow) and is presented below. For a more complete movie, visit the aforementioned web site.
Additional strong solar flares may be possible from this active region during the next 3 to 5 days. It remains a very large sunspot complex that is still visible to the unaided (but protected) eye.
This event is assumed to have produced an Earthward-directed coronal mass ejection, although the data is not yet available to confirm this. If true, an impact from this event will be observed in the next couple of days. Please refer to the Forecast Notes section of our main web page (www.spacew.com) and our Coronal Mass Ejection Impact Assessment pages for more information as it becomes available or subscribe to our e-mail distribution lists to stay up-to-date.
15 January 2005
New active sunspot region 10720 is maturing into a powerhouse of activity. The sunspot complex is now easily visible to the protected and unaided eye as an ominously dark sunspot crossing the central solar meridian. During the last 6 hours, it has produced three major solar flares. The most intense in x-rays as a class X1.2 event at 00:43 UTC on 15 January. However, this flare was weak compared to the punch produced several hours later by a long-duration class M8.6 event at 06:38 UTC. The M8.6 event is shown in an x-ray image taken by the SXI instrument on the GOES spacecraft:
This long-duration major flare accelerated energetic protons that reached the Earth in less than two hours which have the potential to increase radiation levels in space where spacecraft operate (no danger exists to humans on Earth).
The large sunspot complex is capable of producing additional strong solar flares capable of producing strong levels of auroral activity when the associated ejected mass reaches the Earth. The sunspot is visible in the image animation below. The box in the upper-right quadrant shows a close-up of the sunspot complex, which is now capable of fitting many Earth-sized objects within its domain. As the animation runs, the zoomed in sunspot changes color to black and white. Black regions denote areas where the magnetic fields within the sunspot are oriented away from our line of sight (into the sunspot). White regions denote magnetic fields that are oriented toward the Earth (outward, away from the sunspot). Strong magnetic gradients form between these two opposite polarities which can lead to strong solar flares.
This particular sunspot complex contains what is known as a magnetic delta configuration. As the box in the upper-right illustrates, the two opposite polarity umbral areas (the blackest regions of the sunspots) are encased within a single penumbral mass. This is what constitutes a magnetic delta configuration. It is the most volatile magnetic configuration possible and is very frequently associated with energetic solar flares.
Region 10720 is evidence that intense solar activity is possible at almost any time of the sunspot cycle. The Sun is currently within about 2 years of reaching the solar sunspot minimum. This solar cycle reinforces previous cycles where the bulk of the most energetic solar activity does not occur at the sunspot maximum (when the number of sunspots peppering the face of the Sun is at a maximum), but rather during the declining years of the sunspot cycle. A few more major outbursts of activity (unrelated to Regon 10720) are expected as we continue to edge closer to the minimum of this sunspot cycle.
20 July 2004
Active sunspot complex 10652 is proving to be a most interesting object to study in the light of hydrogen. Telescopes equipped with hydrogen-alpha (h-alpha) filters were treated to quite a light show on 20 July during a major class M8.6/3B solar flare at 12:32 UTC (8:32 am EDT). Mass motions were easily visible in the center-line and wings of the H-alpha band, as the following set of images demonstrates, as provided courtesy of the professional Kanzelhohe Solar Observatory in Austria through the Global Solar H-Alpha Patrol Network:
Click on the image sequence to download a full-resolution and high-cadence MPEG movie of the activity (907 kB).
This solar flare was associated with a partially Earthward-directed coronal mass ejection that should provide at least a minor enhancement in auroral activity on 23 July. Additional major solar flares are expected from this region over the next week. Those events could further enhance the potential for observing "northern lights."
At the present time, Region 10652 is continuing to grow. It currently measures 1,600 millionths of white-light area, which is equivalent to about 4.8 BILLION square kilometers. That is large enough to map the entire surface area of NINE Earth's within the confines of the active solar region.
Observers without h-alpha filters for their telescopes can watch the activity from the Global Solar H-Alpha Patrol Network page at: http://www.spacew.com/sunnow.
05 November 2003
At approximately 19:47 UTC (2:47 pm EST) on 04 November, active sunspot complex 10486 spawned what is probably the most intense x-ray flare in history. X-ray sensors on-board the GOES spacecraft are only capable of registering x-ray intensities up to a class X17.4 level. X-ray intensities beyond this level saturate the detectors. This solar flare saturated the x-ray detectors for 11 minutes, leaving space weather forecasters and scientists with some work to try and extrapolate the true intensity of the event. Based on a preliminary extrapolation, it appears that this x-ray flare peaked somewhere between the X30 and X40 levels, which was unheard of until yesterday and is possibly as much as twice as energetic as the X17 solar flare observed on 02 November.
(Screen-captured image from the Space Weather Information Monitor software).
To place this event into historic perspective, it very likely ranks as the most powerful x-ray flare ever observed. During the last two weeks, active Region 10486 has produced three x-ray flares that have ranked within the top 10 of the most intense events in history. It has been quite a ride!
Region 10486 has now rotated behind the western limb and out of view. It will now spend the next two weeks traversing the far side of the Sun. Whether it survives its passage on the far-side and returns to the eastern limb in two weeks in a form still capable of producing energetic events remains unknown. It is possible it could return in a form still capable of producing energetic events, but the odds are against it.
Although only time will tell, observers on Earth will be able to monitor its progress indirectly by watching for coronal mass ejections that occur on the far side of the Sun, but are still visible from Earth via the SOHO LASCO cameras.
It is known that yesterdays remarkable solar flare was associated with a coronal mass ejection. The vast majority of mass thrown out was directed well to the west of the Earth. However, a small portion was also directed Earthward. That portion is expected to impact the Earth on 06 November. After the disturbance arrives, it may be capable of producing periods of minor to major geomagnetic and auroral storm activity. A disturbance as large as was observed on 29 and 30 October is not expected. Nevertheless, auroral activity could become visible from many middle latitude locations. A middle latitude aurora watch is active for 06 November. For North Americans, that is TONIGHT. Late tonight, near or after local midnight. Interference from the near-full moon will hamper attempts to view activity.
28 October 2003
At 04:35 UTC on 28 October, Solar Terrestrial Dispatch issued a warning of a possible imminent X-class flare from Region 486. Commencing at 09:51 UTC, one of the largest solar flares this solar cycle (and indeed, one of the largest in history) blew out of Region 486. The solar flare reached a class X17.2 x-ray intensity (17 times stronger than a regular low-level X-class solar flare and over 1,700 times stronger than your usual run-of-the-mill variety) at 11:10 UTC on 28 October. Ten minutes later, a blast of extremely energetic protons having energies greater than 100 MeV (million electron volts) began pounding the Earth's ionosphere, which protects us from the effects of these dangerous space radiation storms. Energetic protons still have not reached a maximum, even after 6 hours. X-rays were so intense that on the day-side of the Earth (over Europe), ionospheric currents formed that caused the Earth's magnetic field to dip a little bit in strength. Known as a magnetic crochet, these events are detected by magnetometers and are typically only observed during very intense solar flares. While observing the Sun using a small reflector telescope in Germany, Peter Kuklok is said to have observed the white-light component of this flare within the penumbral area of Region 486.
As can be seen from the image sequence below, this solar flare produced a massive full-halo coronal mass ejection, directed squarely at the Earth.
The sunspot has not changed structure considerably following the major X-class flare. The magnetic properties of the spot complex also appear to have been maintained.
It is probable that Region 486 will continue to produce major solar flare activity over the next 3 to 5 days. Activity probably won't be as intense as the event today, but could nevertheless be very strong.
The coronal mass ejection associated with the X17.2 flare was clocked at 2,125 kilometers per second, an extremely high velocity for a coronal mass ejection. The shock front associated with this CME is accelerating high energy protons Earthward. A very strong disturbance is expected to impact the Earth's magnetosphere in the hours around or after 08:00 UTC on 29 October. Auroral activity ("northern lights") could become visible well into the low latitude regions if conditions within this disturbance are favorable. If they are not favorable, activity should remain primarily limited to the middle and high latitude regions.
Spacecraft at geosynchronous orbit are expected to observe periods of magnetopause crossings as the spacecraft pass through their noon orbital sectors. The intense space radiation storm is also gradually decaying the ability of solar array panels to produce electricity, which could affect the long-term operations of some spacecraft. Charging associated with the radiation could cause spurious uncommanded actions by spacecraft. After the disturbance arrives, if it proves to be strong, lower-altitude spacecraft could experience increased atmospheric drag which will result in a lowering of their orbital altitudes. Power companies could observe increases in geomagnetically induced currents and may need to take precautions to safegaurd against these potentially hazardous conditions.
Keep in mind that whether we observe a large storm or not is not known. It all depends on the characteristics of the imbedded magnetic fields inside the disturbance, and it isn't possible to determine what state they are in until after they arrive. But the potential for a hum-dinger of a disturbance is certainly present with this event.
To observe the activity associated with this spot complex in real-time, visit GHAPN (the Global H-Alpha Patrol Network - a professional resource that has been publically available since early 2000). Major solar observatories provide imagery to the patrol network along with one amateur robotic observatory. Big Bear Solar Observatory was the most recent to join. When all observatories are on-line and under clear skies, a full 24 hours of continuous solar coverage is possible through GHAPN.
Stay informed with SWIM (Space Weather Information Monitor - the only serious application for space weather enthusiasts and professionals alike) or the Aurora Monitor software, available on-line.
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