Solar activity: An exciting week!

Image of the sun with the flare location circled.
Just before it is carried out of view by the sun’s rotation.. an M4.3 Flare from AR2975! The flare occurred on April 2, 2022. There was a shortwave radio blackout over America. picture of dr C. Alex Young (@TheSunToday).

Week of March 28 to April 3, 2022: Strong flares and auroras

What a week of sun activity! We saw several flares and even an X-Flare and a Near-X-Flare. Now the sunspot regions that generated much of this activity are disappearing from view as the Sun’s rotation carries them out of view. But some new active regions 2978 and 2981 have produced some filament flares and nice prominences.

A look back from March 25th to April 2nd

This week’s Sun and Aurora images from the EarthSky community

Green polar lights.
Check out the photos from the EarthSky community. | Sheryl R. Garrison in southern Alberta, Canada captured this aurora on April 1, 2022 in the early evening. She wrote: “Aurora hunting is a challenge…if we had stopped for coffee on the way to the site we would have missed it. It was a short burst that lasted about 15 minutes.”
Aurora Borealis, Edmonton, Canada.
Check out the photos from the EarthSky community. | Joel Weatherly of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada snapped this beautiful photo of the Aurora Borealis on March 31, 2022 and wrote: “The arrival of the coronal mass ejection tonight resulted in a small geomagnetic storm with some quite colorful auroras. The red auroras are produced by oxygen atoms at high altitude.” Thanks, Joel!
Check out the photos from the EarthSky community. | Barbara Strutner captured the Aurora Borealis on March 30, 2022 south of Ellensburg, Washington. She wrote, “Beautiful Aurora Borealis despite the city lights!” Really beautiful, Barbara. Thanks!
The rising sun lined up nicely with a tower crane in the distance.
View Photos from the EarthSky Community | Soumyadeep Mukherjee in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, India captured this filtered view of the sun on March 28, 2022 and wrote: “Today I had the opportunity to image the sunrise after a long time. The rising sun paired beautifully with a tower crane in the 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.” Thanks Soumyadeep!
Six exposures of a sunspot with white tendrils in the middle images.
Check out the photos from the EarthSky community. | Mario Rana of Hampton, Virginia captured this image on March 28, 2022 of a sunspot that produced several powerful flares. Mario wrote: “I accidentally caught a flare from active region AR2975 when it happened! These images cover a period of approximately 34 minutes.” Fantastic! Thanks Mario!
A section of a large yellow sphere with small dark spots.
View Photos from the EarthSky Community | William Smith of Venice, Fla. captured this filtered close-up of the Sun on March 27, 2022 and wrote, “I was getting ready for an evening astrophotography session and wanted to test my focus. Since the sun was still rising, I put on the filter and swung over. Actually, I didn’t want to take photos of the sun, but the sunspots caught my eye. After taking a few pictures, I noticed the ‘happy face’ dot.” Thanks, Wilhelm!
Close-up of the sun as a large yellow sphere with a mottled surface.
View Photos from the EarthSky Community | Michael Teoh of the 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 conditions than yesterday. The large active region AR2976 rotates away from the limb and is better positioned for imaging.” Thanks, Michael!
Green glowing curtains in a dark sky over an icy landscape.
View Photos from the EarthSky Community | Joanne Richardson, who was staying outside of Fairbanks, Alaska, captured this bright aurora on March 27, 2022 and wrote, “Love photographing the aurora. I try to look at them every year, whether it’s Iceland, Finland, Canada or Alaska. I shot this at ISO 2000 at 12mm, F2.8 at 6 seconds.” Thanks Joanne!

March 31: Look out for the Northern Lights

Sunspot regions AR2978, and AR2975 in particular, produced a series of C-class and M-class solar flares on March 28, reaching Earth on March 31, 2022. Strong geomagnetic storms (G3 class) are likely to result in bright auroras. The auroras should extend to latitudes like those in the northern United States. All this on top of the X-Flare that happened on March 30th! See below.

Solar Activity: Turbulent purple surface with a sudden flash of bright spot.
AR2975’s X-flare occurred on March 30, 2022 at 17:37 UTC. In this picture you can see the lightning bolt on the top right. Image via SDO and LMSAL SDO Image Service.

March 30: X Flare!

Sunspot AR2975 has just (at 17:37 UTC on 30 Mar 2022) emitted an X1.38 flare. It caused an R3 level radio blackout over America. For those who don’t know, heliophysicists use a classification system that ranks solar flares based on their magnitude. The smallest are A-class, followed by B, C, M… and finally X. So X-flares are those the strongest solar flares.

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

Generally, when X-flares are aimed at Earth, they and their associated CMEs can generate powerful geomagnetic storms that can damage Earth-orbiting satellites, communications systems, and power grids. Don’t expect this X-Flare to be catastrophic! But it should cause a nice aurora display.

solar flare
X Class solar flare on March 30, 2022 via SDO.

Earlier March 30: Geomagnetic Storm Watch

Activity on the sun earlier this week prompted NOAA to issue a watch for a strong geomagnetic storm. NOAA now forecasts strong storms with a G-3 classification. That means we could get auroras as far away as Illinois, New York, and Oregon. Updated watch times indicate that the “cannibal CME” of two combined storms will strike at 0 UTC on Thursday, March 31. That’s 7:00 p.m. CDT on Wednesday, March 30th for us in America.

Aurora Alert!

March 29: NOAA models show “cannibal” CME

Computer models from NOAA suggest that the two CMEs heading for Earth – due to high activity on the Sun earlier this week – will combine, creating a so-called cannibal CME (one CME “eating” the other). The cannibal CME is expected to impact Earth’s magnetic field at 3 UTC on March 31 (10:00 p.m. CDT on March 30).

March 28: M flares and C flares

sun active! Sunspot AR2975 produced multiple M-class flares on March 28, 2022. The same sunspot also produced several C-class flares, bordering on M-status at C9.8.

The largest M flare came earlier in the day at 11:30 UTC. The solar flare peaked at M4.1. This outburst caused an R1 level shortwave radio outage 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 a NOAA S1 proton storm alert. While the flare caused a radio blackout at the peak of the flare, the proton event produces a delayed radio blackout over Earth’s poles. The event also generated a solar tsunami (EIT wave). Stay tuned for more updates on how this will affect Earth.

Part of a sphere (of the Sun) in blue-green with bright spot from a solar flare
The bright spot in this image shows one of the M-class flares of March 28, 2022 from sunspot region AR2975. Image via SDO.

Conclusion: Solar activity was high in the week of March 28 to April 3, 2022. Several CMEs came towards Earth. Some auroras at latitudes like those in the northern United States. An X flare! Solar activity: An exciting week!

Tom Vazquez

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