10 May 2022: When An Enigmatic Sunspot Created An Electro-Magnetic Blackout On Earth

by Aravindan Neelakandan - May 11, 2022 06:26 PM +05:30 IST
10 May 2022: When An Enigmatic Sunspot Created An Electro-Magnetic Blackout On EarthA solar flare. (Representative Image)
Snapshot
  • The intense solar flare caused a coronal mass ejection (CME), releasing plasma that could impact Earth's atmosphere, especially satellites and power grids.

On 10 May 2022, an intense solar flare occurred on the solar surface at universal time of 1:55 pm (around 07:25 pm IST).

A curious sunspot named AR3006, which has been observed by sun-watchers with interest for quite some time, exploded creating a solar flare.

Solar flares are classified in terms of their intensity. The A-class one is not much distinct from the normal solar activity. This is followed by B, C, M, and X categories. Each category in that order represents a ten fold increase in energy output.

An X category flare means the energy output is 10,000 times more than an A flare and 100 times more than a C category flare. However, there are flares even stronger than the X category.

The explosions causing solar flare are equivalent to a billion hydrogen bomb explosions. The latest massive solar flare that occurred on 10 May belongs to the category of X1.5, which means it slightly exceeded the X class solar flare.

Animated gif of Solar Flare-courtesy: spaceweather.com
Animated gif of Solar Flare-courtesy: spaceweather.com

This sunspot shows an interesting multiple personality. It mostly has a magnetic filed that is a +/- at its vast surface. But at the primary core of the sunspot that is deep down from the surface, sunspot's primary core, the polarity reverses and becomes -/+.

The observers of solar spot activity at once recognised the dangerous nature of this sunspot. The opposite polarities can actually trigger the explosive source of solar flare activity creating a huge solar flare affecting the Earth, if the polarity clash is to happen when this spot faces the Earth. And that is exactly what happened on 10 May.

Solar spot AR3006 with unusual reversed-polarity properties. Picture courtesy: Spaceweather.com
Solar spot AR3006 with unusual reversed-polarity properties. Picture courtesy: Spaceweather.com

Solar flares release plasma and its effective magnetic field from the solar surface into the interplanetary space of the solar system. These are called coronal mass ejection (CME). When they collide with the Earth's atmosphere they can affect the satellites orbiting the Earth.

As human civilisation becomes more and more dependent on satellite-based digital technologies for communication and electric power grid networks for day-to-day life energy needs, the CME from the sun colliding with the Earth's atmosphere creating geomagnetic storms, can affect both.

Blackout map because of solar emission on 10-May-2022
Blackout map because of solar emission on 10-May-2022

The emission from the current flare reached the Earth's atmosphere and ionised the upper atmosphere. Around the Atlantic Ocean, it created a shortwave radio blackout and considerably weakened electro magnetic transmissions of below ~30 MHz frequencies for more than an hour.

All pictures and animated gif: speaceweather.com

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