Solar flares occur when magnetic energy that has built up in the solar atmosphere is suddenly released by the Sun. Areas that are magnetically active are indicated by sunspots - visible dark spots on the Sun that indicate the magnetic field is very strong - thousands of times stronger than the Earth’s field.
The most recent flares observed by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft were classified as X-class - the most powerful kind of flare. This giant flare erupted from an active region on the Sun, marked by a group of sunspots called AR (Active Region) 2192 which appeared six days ago. AR 2192 is huge - and by huge we mean it’s almost the size of Jupiter.
“It continues to grow in size and complexity,” C. Alex Young, a solar specialist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, told Rob Waugh from Metro.
The flare was seen under an extreme ultraviolet wavelength that vividly captured the intense heat emitted.
Until now, AR 2192 has been pointing away from Earth, but it is now starting to rotate towards the Earth, and is likely to emit more flares towards us in the days ahead.
The Earth’s magnetic field protects humans from the effects of solar flares, but the eruptions can cause interruptions to radio communications and affect the accuracy of GPS satellites.
The position of the gigantic sunspot will also result in a stunning partial solar eclipse tonight.
Watch this incredible footage of the Sun emitting the flares: