Why should we care about solar flares?
Solar flares aren’t simple mood changes in Sun’s brightness. They represent a lot more, and we actually depend on them.
Solar flares are the consequence of the changes in Sun’s magnetic field. When the magnetic field goes stronger, sunspots appear. Sunspots are the dark areas on the Sun where the magnetic field becomes so strong that it inhibits heat convection, thus causing a decrease in temperature.
Close to sunspots, occur the solar flares. They come together with radio waves, and sometimes coronal mass ejection. A coronal ejection can be very nasty, even though they are the cause of the beautiful aurorae. If Earth will ever be in the way of a strong one, satellites, and everything depending on electrical power will be subject to a lot of damage. “Every rose has its thorn,” said Shakespeare.
Solar flares and coronal mass ejection are what make traveling to Mars an impossible mission. Scientists haven’t yet found the shield that could protect the astronauts from the biochemical damage they can cause. Here, on Earth, we have the ionosphere to protect us from them, and sunscreen cream to use in the summer. But with Mars, Sun plays an arsonist game and we don’t qualify for it. We’re too fragile.
In the last two years, Sun’s magnetic field went to its solar minimum.
That’s what scientists call the Sun’s low magnetic activity when sunspots don’t stain the star and flares or coronal mass ejections don’t occur either.
It happens every 11 years. This is how long the Sun cycle lasts. It goes from its minimum to its maximum, and so on till the end of its life. The end will begin when the hydrogen fusion in its core will stop and the Sun will explode int a supernova. They say the Sun is barely halfway there.
It might sound like a good thing, but since the last two years activity is considered to be the deepest minimum since the Ice Age, things can get complicated. This is where we start missing the threats of coronal mass ejections.
On May 29, an M-class flare was spotted on the surface of the Sun.
Solar flares are classified into five categories given the intensity of the peak flux. Classes A, B, and C are the lowest. M and X are the strongest, with X being the most powerful class of solar flares. So, M is the best there is, given the circumstances.
But scientists are trying to hold their horses of excitement. The event doesn’t necessarily mean that “the Sun’s solar cycle ramping up and becoming more active. Or, they may not. It will be a few more months before we know for sure,” said NASA in a statement.
Six months to be more precise. This is how long it takes scientists to estimate where the Sun is at. Like everything else that is hot in the Universe, the Sun can’t be forecasted.