On Friday, the sun hurled its most powerful solar flare since 2017 along with a coronal mass ejection (CME) in the direction of Earth.
According to NASA, the X2.2-class flare was emitted from the surface of the sun late Friday from sunspot region 3229. This is the most powerful flare so far of solar cycle 25, which is expected to increase in intensity over the next couple of years before reaching a peak and beginning to decline again.
An X-class flare is the most powerful category of flare, but Friday’s blast is on the relatively low end of the X scale.
The flare lasted over an hour, which is considered a long-duration flare.
While the communications blackout started within minutes of the flare leaving the sun at the speed of light, the charged plasma of a CME travels much slower, typically taking a few days to reach our planet.
It now appears that the CME delivered more of a glancing blow than a direct hit to our planet when it finally arrived on Monday.
“The anticipated CME associated with the X2 flare on 17 February arrived at Earth early 20 February, at 5:39 am EST (1039 UTC),” writes the US Space Weather Prediction Center run by NOAA.
The agency says minor geomagnetic storm conditions are possible, which could mean some difficulty with radio or satellite-based communications, including GPS. But this is less impactful than the moderate G2-level storm some were expecting, which may have made auroras visible in the lower 48 US states.
It may still be possible to see the aurora borealis in some northern tier states tonight, with a little luck. NOAA provides an aurora forecast that is worth checking in with if skies are clear where you are.
If you catch any great aurora photos, please share them with me @EricCMack.