Sun activity: An exciting week!

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Sun activity: Week of March 28 to April 3, 2022

Image of sun with flare site circled.
Shortly before it’s carried by the sun’s rotation out of view .. an M4.3 flare from AR2975! The flare happened on April 2, 2022. There was a shortwave radio blackout over the Americas. Image via Dr. C. Alex Young (@TheSunToday).

What a week for sun activity! We’ve seen multiple flares, and even an X-flare and a near X-flare. Now the sunspot regions that produced much of that activity are going out of sight, with the sun’s rotation carrying them out of view. But some new active regions 2978 and 2981 have yielded some filament flares and beautiful prominences.

A look back at March 25 to April 2

This week’s sun and aurora images from EarthSky’s community

Green auroras.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Sheryl R Garrison in Southern Alberta, Canada caught this aurora on April 1, 2022, in early evening. She wrote: “Aurora hunting is challenging…if we’d stopped to grab a coffee on our way to the location we’d have missed it. It was a short burst lasting about 15 minutes.”
Aurora borealis, Edmonton, Canada.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Joel Weatherly in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, took this beautiful photo of the aurora borealis on March 31, 2022, and wrote: “This evening’s coronal mass ejection arrival resulted in a minor geomagnetic storm with some rather colourful auroras. The red auroral light is generated by high altitude oxygen atoms.” Thank you, Joel!
View at EarthSky Community Photos. |  Barbara Strutner caught the aurora borealis from south of Ellensburg, Washington, on March 30, 2022. She wrote: “Beautiful Aurora Borealis despite city lights!” Indeed beautiful, Barbara. Thank you!
Rising sun aligned beautifully with a tower crane at a distance.
View at EarthSky Community Photos | Soumyadeep Mukherjee in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, India, captured this filtered view of the sun on March 28, 2022, and wrote “Today, I got an opportunity to image the sunrise after a long time. The rising sun aligned beautifully with a tower crane at a distance, making it an interesting composition. The large sunspot region AR12976 along with AR12975 are visible in the image along with AR12978 at the edge of the solar disk.” Thank you, Soumyadeep!
Six shots of a sunspot with white tendrils on the middle images.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Mario Rana in Hampton, Virginia, took this image on March 28, 2022 of a sunspot that produced multiple strong flares. Mario wrote: “I happened to catch a flare from active region AR2975 as it happened! These images cover a period of about 34 minutes.” Fantastic! Thank you, Mario!
A section of a large yellow sphere with small dark spots.
View at EarthSky Community Photos | William Smith in Venice, Florida, captured this filtered close-up of the sun on March 27, 2022, and wrote “I was setting up for an evening astrophotography session and wanted to test my focus. Since the sun was still up, I put the filter on and swung over to it. I had not planned on taking any sun photos but the sunspots caught my eye. After taking a few images, I noticed the ‘happy face’ spot.” Thank you, William!
Close-up of the sun, seen as a large yellow sphere with a mottled surface.
View at EarthSky Community Photos | Michael Teoh at Heng Ee Observatory in Penang, Malaysia, captured this filtered close-up of the sun on March 27, 2022, and wrote “A second clear morning in a row with better condition than yesterday. The large active region AR2976 is rotating away from the limb, getting better positioned for imaging.” Thank you, Michael!
Green luminous curtains in a dark sky over an icy landscape.
View at EarthSky Community Photos | Joanne Richardson who was located outside of Fairbanks, Alaska, captured this bright aurora on March 27, 2022, and wrote “I love photographing the aurora. I try to view them yearly, whether it is Iceland, Finland, Canada or Alaska. I shot this at an ISO of 2000 at 12mm, F2.8 @ 6 seconds.” Thank you, Joanne!

March 31: Watch for auroras

Sunspot regions AR2978 and in particular AR2975 produced a number of solar C-class and M-class flares on March 28. Sun experts have seen a “cannibal” CME (two coronal mass ejections, or CMEs, combined) coming our way, anticipated to reach Earth on March 31, 2022. Strong geomagnetic storms (G3-class) will probably result in bright auroras. The auroras should reach down to latitudes like those in the northern U.S. All that in addition to the X flare that happened on March 30! See below.

Sun activity: Roiling purple surface with a bright spot suddenly shining out.
The X-flare from AR2975 happened at 17:37 UTC on March 30, 2022. In this image, you can see the flash in the upper right. Image via SDO and LMSAL SDO image service.


March 30: X-flare!

Sunspot AR2975 blasted out an X1.38 flare just now (at 17:37 UTC on March 30, 2022). It created an R3 level radio blackout over the Americas. For those who don’t know, heliophysicists use a classification system that divides solar flares according to their strength. The smallest ones are A-class, followed by B, C, M … and finally X. So X-flares are the strongest solar flares.

The source of the March 30 X-flare – sunspot AR2975 – has already sent at least two coronal mass ejections (CMEs) toward Earth this week (see below).

Generally speaking, if X-flares are Earth-directed, they and their associated CMEs can create strong geomagnetic storms that can harm satellites in Earth orbit, communications systems, and power grids. This X-flare is not expected to cause catastrophic results! But it should cause a beautiful auroral display.

Solar flare
X-class solar flare on March 30, 2022, via SDO.

Earlier on March 30: Geomagnetic storm watch

Activity on the sun earlier this week prompted NOAA to issue a watch for a strong geomagnetic storm. NOAA is now projecting strong storms with a G-3 classification. That means we might get auroras as far south as Illinois, New York and Oregon. Updated watch times suggest the “cannibal CME” from two combined storms will strike at 0 UTC on Thursday, March 31. That is 7 p.m. CDT on Wednesday, March 30, for us in the Americas.

Aurora alert!

March 29: NOAA models show ‘cannibal’ CME

NOAA computer modeling suggests that the two CMEs headed for Earth – from the high level of activity on the sun earlier this week – will combine, creating what is called a cannibal CME (one CME “eats” the other). The cannibal CME is expected to strike Earth’s magnetic field around 3 UTC on March 31 (10 p.m. CDT on March 30).

March 28: M-flares and C-flares

Active sun! Sunspot AR2975 produced multiple M-class flares on March 28, 2022. The same sunspot also produced severals C-class flare that verged on M status, at C9.8.

The biggest M-flare came earlier in the day, at 11:30 UTC. The solar flare peaked at M4.1. This eruption produced an R1 level shortwave radio blackout over Africa. NOAA reported a burst of radio waves indicating a possible fast CME. There is also a sudden increase in solar protons. The protons reached the level of an S1 proton storm alert from NOAA. While the flare created a radio blackout at the peak of the flare, the proton event creates a delayed radio blackout over Earth’s poles. The event also produced a solar tsunami (EIT wave). Stay tuned for more updates on how this will affect Earth.

Part of a globe (the sun) in teal with bright patch from a solar flare
The bright patch in this image shows one of the March 28, 2022, M-class flares from sunspot region AR2975. Image via SDO.

Bottom line: Sun activity was high during the week of March 28 to April 3, 2022. Multiple CMEs came Earth’s way. Some auroral displays at latitudes like those in the northern U.S. An X-flare!

April 3, 2022

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Deborah Byrd

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