NASA Records Huge Flare From New, Active Region Emerging on Sun's Surface

NASA has spotted a bright solar flare erupting from the side of the sun, suggesting a particularly active solar region could be rotating this way.

The flare can be seen in the video above that was captured by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory on Sunday. In it, a contorted plasma structure can be seen moving on the left-hand side of the sun shortly before it erupts into space.

Solar flares are eruptions of electromagnetic radiation from the sun that travel at the speed of light. The increased levels of X-ray and extreme ultraviolet radiation carried by flares can have an effect on Earth's ionosphere—a region of the atmosphere containing electrically-charged particles.

High-frequency radio communications rely on the ionosphere in order to work since the radio waves bounce off of it in order to go around the world, so solar flares can have the effect of disrupting high-frequency radio communication if they're strong enough.

Solar flare
A NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory image of the solar flare that erupted on Sunday, July 31, 2022. The flare indicates a potentially active region of the sun that is turning toward us. NASA/SDO/AIA

Sunday's flare has been measured as a C9.3-class flare—a relatively weak classification relative to other solar flares. Flares can be classed by one of four letters increasing in strength from B, C, M, and X, and each classification has a subdivision from 1 to 9.

Generally, flares only start having noticeable consequences on Earth if they are M-class or above.

However, solar activity website Spaceweather.com stated that the flare's classification may be an underestimate due to it being partially covered by the edge of the sun.

In any case, even if the flare itself didn't pose any risk of disruption on Sunday, its source is worth paying attention to.

Solar flares tend to erupt from areas of the sun known as sunspots, where the sun's magnetic field lines are so strong that they prevent heat from reaching the atmosphere, leading to cooler, dark-colored areas.

When these strong magnetic field lines suddenly move, solar flares and other eruptions of solar material like coronal mass ejections (CMEs) are released. As such, sunspots can be seen as areas of potential solar activity.

The Spaceweather.com website read: "The explosion is significant because it may herald an active region set to emerge over the sun's northeastern limb later this week. A new sunspot group could bring an end to weeks of relative quiet."

The number of sunspots varies over a roughly 11-year-period known as the solar cycle. Each cycle has a peak of sunspot activity known as the solar maximum and a period of low activity known as the solar minimum.

Currently, the sun is in the part of its cycle where sunspot activity is increasing toward the peak, which is expected to occur sometime in the summer of 2025 according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Space Weather Prediction Center.