Sun throws a Halloween tantrum, with a solar flare impacting Earth this weekend

The sun has been unusually active this week, culminating in a large solar flare which it threw off at 600 miles per second in the direction of Earth on Thursday, October 28. The flare is an X1-class flare, with X-class being the most intense form of flares. The burst of radiation is heading toward us and will strike the Earth this weekend, but don’t worry — it won’t harm you on the ground, though it could cause issues for satellite communications.

The flare was captured as it emerged from the sun by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, which monitors the sun and was able to record the event as it happened.

An X1.0 class solar flare flashes in the center of the Sun on Oct. 28, 2021.
An X1.0 class solar flare flashes in the center of the Sun on Oct. 28, 2021. This image was captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory and shows a blend of light from the 171- and 304-angstrom wavelengths. NASA/GSFC/SDO

You don’t need to worry about the solar flare harming you on the ground, thanks to Earth’s atmosphere which protects us from radiation. However, events of this magnitude can cause issues for communications as they can disturb GPS signals, as NASA explains:

“Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation. Harmful radiation from a flare cannot pass through Earth’s atmosphere to physically affect humans on the ground, however — when intense enough — they can disturb the atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communications signals travel.”

For more technical details on how the flare might affect the region around the Earth, in a phenomenon called space weather, you can look to the Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) run by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The SWPC will be watching the incoming particles from the sun and will issue warnings if they could affect systems here on Earth. The center has announced what is called a “geomagnetic storm watch,” meaning that this weekend there is an increased likelihood of a geomagnetic storm occurring.

“A G3 (Strong) Geomagnetic Storm Watch is in effect for 30 — 31 October 2021, following a significant solar flare and Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) from the sun that occurred around 11:35 a.m. EDT on Oct. 28,” SWPC writes. “Analysis indicated the CME departed the Sun at a speed of 973 km/s and is forecast to arrive at Earth on 30 October, with effects likely continuing into 31 October.”

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