Intense Solar Flare Captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory

SDO Solar Flare May 2024

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory captured this image of a solar flare — as seen in the bright flash toward the upper middle area of the Sun — on May 2, 2024. The image shows a subset of extreme ultraviolet light that highlights the extremely hot material in flares and which is colorized in teal. Credit: NASA/SDO

The Sun emitted a strong solar flare, peaking at 10:22 p.m. ET on May 2, 2024. NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, which watches the Sun constantly, captured an image of the event.

Solar flares are intense bursts of radiation emanating from the release of magnetic energy associated with sunspots. These flares are among the biggest explosive events in our solar system, visible primarily in the ultraviolet range.

Flares impact Earth in a variety of ways: they can disrupt the ionosphere and interfere with GPS navigation and radio communications. They are also responsible for auroras, the beautiful natural light displays often seen in high-latitude skies.

This flare is classified as an X1.6 flare. X-class denotes the most intense flares, while the number provides more information about its strength.

Solar flares are rated based on their intensity and potential impact on Earth. The classification system consists of five categories: A, B, C, M, and X. Each category has a tenfold increase in energy output compared to the previous one, with A being the weakest and X the strongest. Within each letter class, there is a finer scale from 1 to 9. For example, an X1 flare is weaker than an X2 flare, but significantly stronger than an M5 flare. This classification helps scientists and relevant agencies predict potential impacts and prepare for space weather-related disruptions.

NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory Orbiting Earth

Artist’s concept image of the SDO satellite orbiting Earth. Credit: NASA

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) is a mission dedicated to understanding the origins of solar activity and its impacts on Earth. Launched in February 2010, the SDO is a critical part of NASA’s Living With a Star (LWS) program, which aims to develop the scientific understanding necessary to effectively address those aspects of the connected Sun-Earth system that directly affect life and society.

The observatory is equipped with a suite of instruments that provide observations leading to a deeper understanding of the solar atmosphere’s dynamics. These instruments are capable of capturing ultra-high-definition images of the Sun in 13 different wavelengths every few seconds. The key instruments include the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA), which produces images of the solar corona and chromosphere; the Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager (HMI), which studies the solar surface and magnetic activity; and the Extreme Ultraviolet Variability Experiment (EVE), which measures the Sun’s ultraviolet output.

The data collected by the SDO has been instrumental in improving our ability to forecast space weather events, such as solar flares and coronal mass ejections, which can affect satellite operations, communications, power grids, and navigation systems on Earth. Through continuous monitoring, the SDO plays a pivotal role in our ongoing efforts to understand the complex solar processes that influence our daily lives and technological infrastructure.

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