April 1, 2014
On Saturday, the sun erupted with an X-class solar flare, blasting Earth with powerful electromagnetic radiation. Although we couldn’t directly feel its effects on the ground, the impact of this event was measured as a dramatic radio blackout for several minutes, highlighting the fact that the sun isn’t quite done with solar maximum yet.
The X1.0 flare erupted at 1:48 p.m. ET on March 29 and an armada of solar telescopes captured the event in all its glory. A solar flare occurs when highly-stressed magnetic field lines are forced together over regions of intense magnetic activity, descriptively known as “active regions.” These regions are often associated with sunspot clusters — this is why astronomers keep count of sunspots in an effort to record solar activity.
Although we are well protected from the worst effects of radiation from solar flares, ionizing X-ray and extreme ultraviolet radiation can have a disruptive impact on unshielded satellite electronics and can even give unprotected astronauts an increased radiation dose. Our atmosphere is a thick shield that protects our biology from the sun’s worst solar flares, but that’s not to say that they can’t impact our lives.