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NASA | X-Class: A Guide to Solar Flares

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solar flares may seem like faraway

events but they can damage satellites

and even ground-based technologies and

power grids every 11 years as the Sun

reaches its maximum activity they become

bigger and more common and that

increases the chances that one will

significantly affect earth so what are

these solar eruptions a solar flare is

basically an explosion on the surface of

the Sun ranging from minutes to hours in

length large flares can release enough

energy to power the entire United States

for a million years

flares happen when the powerful magnetic

fields in and around the Sun reconnect

they're usually associated with active

regions often seen as sunspots where the

magnetic fields are strongest flares are

classified according to their strength

the smallest ones are B Class followed

by C M and X the largest similar to the

Richter scale for earthquakes each

letter represents a tenfold increase in

energy output so an X is ten times an M

and a hundred times a C within each

letter class there's a finer scale from

one to nine c-class flares are too weak

to noticeably affect earth m-class

flares can cause brief radio blackouts

at the poles and minor radiation storms

that might endanger astronauts

it's the x-class flares that are the

real juggernauts

although X is the last letter there are

flares more than ten times the power of

an x one so x-class flares can go higher

than nine the most powerful flare on

record was in 2003 during the last solar

maximum it was so powerful that it

overloaded the sensors measuring it

they cut out at x17 and the flare was

later estimated to be about x45 a

powerful x-class flare like that can

create long-lasting radiation storms

which can harm satellites and even get

airline passengers flying near the polls

small radiation doses X flares also have

the potential to create global

transmission problems and worldwide

blackouts the seriousness of an x-class

flare pointed at earth is why NASA and

NOAA constantly monitor the Sun NASA's

heliophysics fleet of spacecraft can now

see the Sun from every side and in many

different wavelengths this unprecedented

coverage in abling scientists to predict

and detect space weather events like

flares and CMEs with ever greater

accuracy with advanced warning

governments and companies can take steps

to protect their technological

infrastructure so that the worst

scenarios will never happen

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