We usually think of our Sun as being one of the more boring stars in the neighborhood. Pretty average mass, pretty stable, a constant feature of our lives. But, with Halloween approaching the Sun is getting on the scary act. Our local star was active all weekend long, producing three of the most intense solar flares possible in two days.
The sun is currently at the peak of its natural 11-year solar cycle, where it oscillates through periods of low activity — characterized by few sunspots and intense flares — and much higher activity. This particular solar cycle has been one of the quietest on record, with the sun occasionally even going completely silent just as its activity should be highest. This weekend’s flares are a return to the normally scheduled intense outbursts from the solar surface that typically characterize solar maximum.
The first flare, which occurred on Oct. 25, was classified as an X1.7 class flare. An X-class flare is the strongest category of solar flare, where massive amounts of radiation spew from the sun’s surface. If this radiation is directed at Earth, it can mess with satellite communication, create radio blackouts, and generate beautiful auroras. An even more intense flare, an X2.1 flare, burst from the sun seven hours after the first on Oct. 25. An X2-class flare is twice as intense as an X1. A third flare X1-class occurred on Oct. 27 and at least 15 additional lower M-class flares happened between Oct. 23 and Oct. 28. Check out the video above for the latest ‘space’ weather forecast.