Sun Entering Season of Heightened Activity
Solar Plasma Cloud – Strongest in four years: “Our sun is entering a season of heightened activity. If early indications hold, for the first time in modern history we, our world with a culture so dependent upon satellites, may turn our eyes skyward as we experience GPS, television, cell phone and internet connectivity interruptions.”
February 15, 2011 the above alert was posted by the Space Weather Forecast Centre in Belgium when they witnessed extreme space weather. (The Centre puts out alerts to anyone who signs up for them at http://sidc.be/index.php). This particular alert noted that an X2.3-solar X-ray flare occurred. This was the strongest flare in four years since an X1.5 occurred in 2006.
Solar flares are rated from weakest to strongest by A, B, C, M, or X; an X class flare being the strongest. The magnitude of the flare is then further defined by the addition of a number (e.g. an X2 flare is twice as strong as an X1 flare). Since we began recording and ranking solar flares in 1976, the strongest flare appeared in April of 2003, which was rated as X28+.
The key to whether a flare affects us here on earth is whether the flare occurs on the earth facing side of the sun. Predicting solar weather is a relatively new area and therefore years behind our ability to predict weather within our atmosphere. For the purpose of better tracking and predicting when solar activity may occur and whether it will affect us, two Stereo satellites were put into orbit by NASA that allow us to monitor the entire surface of the sun.