What's Going On With the Sun This Week?

Solar flares, canyons of fire... it seems like it's trying to get our attention.

Our sun has really got a flair for flares lately. The third solar flare in two days peaked at 11:03 a.m. Eastern time Friday, and it was ranked as an X2.1. Solar flares come in classifications according to their x-ray brightness: C, M, and X (in order of increasing intensity). A previous flare came at this morning at 4:01 am Eastern time, which was an X1.7—an X2 is twice as intense as an X1. Flares of the X-class variety are known to cause radio degradation or blackouts. These were both, clearly, more intense than the M-class flare we wrote about yesterday. This week, NASA also released a video (below) taken in late September. The video depicts a 200,000 mile-long solar material filament that "rips through" the corona, leaving behind a (not-scary-at-all-sounding) canyon of fire. But let it be known, NASA concedes that no, the sun is not actually made of fire, but rather plasma.

So what is going on up there? We're currently at the solar maximum—that time in the 11-year cycle when solar activity is at its greatest. But for scientists, it's been a strange one, with limited sun spots. And, if you think back to a New York Times article from September, some were actually wondering why the solar maximum was so mild. Words like "halfhearted," "dud," "tranquil," and "slacker" were thrown around to describe the star we orbit. Space scientist Joseph M. Kunches even told the Times, "You look at the Sun today and you say, 'What?'"

Well, it seems like the sun has heard the tauntings of us mortals loud and clear.

While the talk of flares and canyons and mass ejections might sound frightening, this statement on NASA's website might help calm you down: "Increased numbers of flares are quite common at the moment, since the sun is near solar maximum. Humans have tracked solar cycles continuously since they were discovered in 1843, and it is normal for there to be many flares a day during the sun's peak activity."

NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center is also monitoring the situation. As of the time of this writing, the SWPC says there's no sign of a coronal mass ejection from the latest flare , and that they're unlikely to cause geomagnetic storm activity that will affect Earthlings, but we're still awaiting minor effects from an ejection earlier this week, which could hit some time today.