Among the 60 sunspots currently on the surface of the Sun, there’s one that has been furiously active this week. Spot AR2929 has released not one but two solar flares followed by coronal mass ejections.
Luckily, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, which constantly watches the Sun, captured them.
The first flare, classified as an M1.5, was released on January 18, while the second one exploded on January 20 and was much more powerful, reaching M5.5. As flares go, these are classed as just above minor and just above moderate, respectively, but they are still incredible releases of energy from our star.
The events led to an increase in X-rays from the Sun, creating a minor and brief short-wave radio blackout over South America and the Indian Ocean.
The power of the flares is clear in the release of coronal mass ejections — huge releases of plasma and magnetic field expelled from the Sun's corona — both of which were quite spectacular, even though far from the best we have seen.
These events literally make waves in the solar wind and when flung in our direction can affect the space weather of our planet, including bringing about some beautiful aurorae.
By the looks of things, there is no expectation for visual lower latitude auroras, but forecasts expect a moderate uptick of activity on the night between Saturday 22 and Sunday 23 January.
Observations of activity like this constantly improves our understanding of the Sun and helps us prepare against the most dangerous and powerful space weather events it can cause.