New Solar Flare Packs the Power of Millions of H-Bombs

By Tom Yulsman | May 14, 2013 11:31 am

Four images from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory of an X3.2-class flare from late at night on May 13, 2013. Starting in the upper left and going clockwise, the images show the flare in four different wavelengths. (Image: NASA/SDO)

Last night the sun unleashed its latest tirade: the third flare in as many days, and the most powerful one in 2013 so far.

Exploding from the Sun’s surface with energy equivalent to millions of 100-megaton hydrogen bombs, the flare spewed intense radiation into space. It peaked last night at 9:11 p.m. EDT.

It was not directed toward Earth, but NASA says solar material from all three of the recent flares will pass by the Spitzer Space Telescope  and could give a “glancing blow” to the STEREO-B and Epoxi spacecraft. All these spacecraft can be put into a protective safe mode.

The latest eruption was characterized as an X3.2-class flare. The X-class category is the most powerful, and each step up in number indicates a doubling of energy. So this flare was more than twice as powerful as Sunday’s X1.7-class flare.

The panel of images above, from NASA’s Earth-orbiting Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft, shows the massive eruption of energy in four different wavelengths. Each panel shows what was happening at a different temperature. According to NASA, this provides scientists with insights into the causes of solar flares.

Here’s a screenshot from a movie showing the two previous flares, which occurred over the course of May 12 and 13 — click on it to watch it (and check out the cool accompanying music):

A movie consisting of images from NASA’s SDO spacecraft shows an X1.7-class and X2.8-class flare, as well as two coronal mass ejections, or CMEs, off the upper left side of the sun. Solar material also blew off the lower right side of the sun in a prominence eruption. (Movie: NASA/SDO/ESA/SOHO)

A solar flare occurs when magnetic energy builds up in the sun’s atmosphere and is then suddenly released with an accompanying burst of radiation across the electromagnetic spectrum. As the sun builds toward the peak of the 11-year solar cycle this year, all of this activity is completely normal.

So stay tuned for more.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: select, Sun, Top Posts
  • Joe Hopersberger

    And the music in the video wasn’t bad either!



ImaGeo is a visual blog focusing on the intersection of imagery, imagination and Earth. It focuses on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet, with an emphasis (although not an exclusive one) on the unfolding Anthropocene Epoch.

About Tom Yulsman

Tom Yulsman is Director of the Center for Environmental Journalism and a Professor of Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He also continues to work as a science and environmental journalist with more than 30 years of experience producing content for major publications. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Audubon, Climate Central, Columbia Journalism Review, Discover, Nieman Reports, and many other publications. He has held a variety of editorial positions over the years, including a stint as editor-in-chief of Earth magazine. Yulsman has written one book: Origins: the Quest for Our Cosmic Roots, published by the Institute of Physics in 2003.


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