The sun popped off a powerful solar flare this week, its biggest burst in 2015 and one that temporarily knocked out radio communications in the Pacific region, according to NASA. It was an intense X2.7-class flare, erupting Tuesday around 6 p.m. EDT. The U.S. space agency’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, which has been hurtling through space and studying the sun since 2010, captured the event on camera.
Solar flares are brief, rapid bursts of high-energy radiation emitted by the sun. They happen when magnetic energy that has accumulated in the solar atmosphere suddenly escapes with the power of 10 million volcanic eruptions, as described by NASA. Such cosmic events can send electromagnetic waves hurtling toward Earth and significantly influence the space around the planet.
However, that won’t be the case this time, scientists said. “We are not expecting a radiation storm at Earth,” researchers noted. However, the blast did result in short-term radio blackouts.
“Harmful radiation from a flare cannot pass through Earth’s atmosphere to physically affect humans on the ground,” NASA scientists said in a statement. “However — when intense enough — they can disturb the atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communications signals travel.” This week’s solar flare lasted for several hours. Scientists said they’d be keeping a close eye on the solar region where the flare erupted to monitor for any future bursts.
Watch a NASA video of Tuesday’s solar flare here: