Massive Solar Flares Are Coming From a New Sunspot Region, More to Come

A federal U.S. space weather agency has warned that the sun is likely to continue belching out solar flares from a new sunspot source called Region 3006.

On Tuesday morning, the sun released a huge eruption that was classified as an X-type solar flare—the strongest classification.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) predicted that there could have been a strong radio blackout associated with the flare, warning that high-frequency communication might have been prone to contact loss over the Atlantic Ocean as well as in parts of eastern South America, western Africa and Europe.

Sometimes space weather experts can see exactly where solar flares come from, however, the Tuesday flare erupted from a region of the sun not facing the Earth beyond what's known as its southeast limb.

The sun
A NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory/AIA image of the sun taken on May 5, 2022. Solar activity can be seen on the left side of the image. NASA/SDO/AIA

At the time, the source of the strong flare was yet to be identified. However, it has now rotated into view and has been identified as Region 3006.

A couple of other, weaker M-class flares were observed afterward from a different region that has been identified known as Region 3004. In a solar flare notice on Wednesday, May 4, SWPC described Region 3004 as "the most notable sunspot group currently present on the visible solar disk."

It added: "Additional M-class flares remain likely, with a chance of X-class activity, due primarily to the combined flare probabilities of Region 3004 and the as yet unidentified source region [now Region 3006] of M- and X-class flare events from the southeast limb."

Solar flares are intense bursts of radiation that come from the release of magnetic energy in the sun. They are associated with sunspots, which are areas of the sun's "surface" that appear dark because they are cooler than surrounding areas. They are cooler because they form in areas where magnetic fields are so strong that they prevent some heat from inside the sun from reaching the surface.

The flares can impact us here on Earth. These bursts of electromagnetic radiation travel at the speed of light, reaching us at the same time they are observed. Solar flares carry X-ray and extreme ultraviolet radiation which can alter the Earth's ionosphere—part of the atmosphere between about 50 and 370 miles high—and cause radio signals to become absorbed.

This might result in a radio blackout—a loss of high-frequency radio communications.

The sun is currently in an increasing phase of solar activity as part of its usual 11-year cycle, meaning that more and more solar flares can be expected in the coming years.