It seems that, on the morning of the 29th of May, our Sun fired off its stronger flare since 2017. NASA has spotted the eruption with the help of the Solar Dynamic Observatory (SDO).
Solar flares are bursts of radiation that come from sunspots – some cool patches of the solar surface, which are also dark, which boost incredibly strong magnetic field.
We have learned that there are three categories: C, M & X. Every category is ten times more powerful than the one beneath it. For example, M has flares that are ten times stronger than C’s flares, but it’s also ten times weaker than X’s flares.
So what kind of flare was this one?
The flare we’re talking about here was an M-class eruption, so it wasn’t that big of a deal. It wasn’t aimed at the Earth, so we have no supercharged auroras coming towards us. However, the outburst can still suggest that the Sun is going through a more active phase of its activity cycle of 11 years now. If this is really happening, the most recent cycle, which is also known as Solar Cycle 24, might actually be finished. Scientists stated that a new cycle starts at a solar minimum, and that’s when the Sun has a few sunspots and is not that active. But, according to NASA, it takes about six months of data and sunspot–counting in order to see when it actually occurs.
They also stated that: “Because that minimum is defined by the lowest number of sunspots in a cycle, scientists need to see the numbers consistently rising before they can determine when exactly they were at the bottom. That means solar minimum is an instance only recognizable in hindsight: It could take six to 12 months after the fact to confirm when minimum has actually passed.”