Powerful solar flare that erupted from a sunspot three times the size of the Earth caused widespread radio blackouts

  • A powerful solar flare exploded on Tuesday, caused by a sunspot three times the size of the Earth.

  • The flare sent radiation that interfered with Earth's radio signals.

  • There have been a series of recent space weather events as the sun enters a period of peak activity.

A powerful solar flare exploded on our sun on Tuesday, releasing radiation that caused a radio blackout on Earth.

The flare, classed as an M9.6 solar flare, was powerful enough to disrupt high frequency radio signals in North America, Central America, and South America, per the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

There were no clear reported effects of the blackout, which lasted more than 10 minutes, though an expert previously told Insider such events can interfere with air traffic.

"Space weather can ground flights," Mathew Owens, a professor of space physics at the University of Reading said, adding that the Federal Aviation Administration "won't allow flights if they don't have both radio and satellite communications."

An M9 solar flare is a pretty powerful explosion, though it poses no health risk to humans. Solar flares rank from A, followed by B, C, M, and X classes. An M9 solar flare is just a rank below the most powerful class of solar flares.

A flash of light appears where the solar flare is released on the left side of the sun.
A video of the sun taken on May 18 shows a powerful solar flare being released.SDO/NASA

The flare was caused by a large sunspot that was just out of view when the flare exploded. The eruption was only 1 percentage point from being an X-flare, and would probably have been classified as such if it had been in full view of Earth's observation satellites.

The sunspot, which has now come into view, appears to be about three times the size of the Earth, per spaceweather.com. Experts will likely keep a close eye on the spot as it comes to face the Earth this weekend.

Sunspots are areas where magnetic fields are particularly strong. They are known to be associated with space weather events.

A gif shows the sunspot rotating into view
A video of the sun taken on May 17 — a day after the solar flare — shows the sunspot rotating into viewSDO/NASA

This is the latest in a series of recent notable space weather events, including spectacular auroras and rare solar occurrences like plasma waterfalls and tornados.

The sun is gearing up towards a peak of activity in its near decadal cycle, which is caused by a sudden flip in its poles. As the sun becomes more active, it is exhibiting more frequent solar events like solar flares and coronal mass ejections.

An X-class solar flare was spotted in March causing radio blackouts in parts of southeast Asia, Australia, and New Zealand.

Scientists have warned that these peaks of solar activity could potentially be dangerous if powerful solar storms were to short power grids around the globe.

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