Watch a wild ‘failed eruption’ solar flare

The sun continues building towards its “solar maximum” of activity in spectacular fashion, just as predicted. On June 3, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) captured a stunning M-class solar flare—only to show most of the plume sucked back towards the star’s surface in what is technically known as a “failed eruption.”

“Physics in action,” solar astrophysicist Ryan French posted to X on Monday shortly after the event. French went on to explain NASA’s video and images appear to offer a “prime example” of a failed eruption which occurs when electromagnetic radiation fails to escape the sun’s immense gravitational pull.

As Space.com explains, a solar flare’s strength is measured through an alphabetic rating system by noting its peak flux in watts per square meter (W/m2) of lower energy, longer wavelength “soft X-rays.” The strongest class, X, is respectively followed by M, C, B, and A—each 10 times weaker than their preceding letter. Flares are also assigned an accompanying 1-10 scale to denote their relative strength.

[Related: Why our tumultuous sun was relatively quiet in the late 1600s.]

In this case, the event was measured at a M4.8 according to Spaceweather.com. M-class flares often generate waves of plasma and magnetic fields called coronal mass ejections (CMEs) that can result in damaging geomagnetic storms and colorful atmospheric auroras once they reach Earth. In this case, however, the M-class flare resulted in a dud, as far as CMEs are concerned.

“It looks like nearly all of the plasma associated with the M4 flare eruption fell back into the Sun and was reabsorbed with just a small puff appearing in coronagraph imagery,” meteorologist and space weather forecaster Sara Housseal added in her own social media post.

This means that while impressive to see thanks to satellite imagery, it’s unlikely any aftereffects will make it to Earth. Although a likely disappointment for aurora chasers, less CME activity means less chance of any potential damage to the planet’s numerous satellite arrays susceptible to the electromagnetic waves. SpaceX wasn’t so lucky when geomagnetic storms knocked around 40 Starlink satellites out of orbit back in 2022. Some experts at the time expressed their surprise at the outcome, given that the storm itself “was by no means a big event.” Earlier this spring, NASA also captured footage of a rare quadruple “super-sympathetic” solar flare which astronomers warned could pose similar electronic issues. Luckily, few if any were subsequently reported.

[Related: Rare quadruple solar flare event captured by NASA.]

But these occurrences are still an increasing cause for concern given how dependent modern society is on global satellite communications. Many companies now dedicate significant resources to redundancy and backup programs but solar forecasting is still often inaccurate and requires more funding and research. In the meantime, it’s still wild to see events like Monday’s solar flare in such detail—and thankfully at such a distance.

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Andrew Paul

Staff Writer

Andrew Paul is Popular Science's staff writer covering tech news. Previously, he was a regular contributor to The A.V. Club and Input, and has had recent work featured by Rolling Stone, Fangoria, GQ, Slate, NBC, as well as McSweeney's Internet Tendency. He lives outside Indianapolis.

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