POWERING SMARTER WEATHER DECISIONS
Search

Sun unleashes strongest flare of current solar cycle

The sunspot region that produced last week’s mesmerising aurora displays has just unleashed another strong solar flare, this one even more powerful than anything else seen during the current solar cycle.

In case you missed it, large areas of the Northern and Southern Hemispheres were treated to vivid aurora displays late last week.

Image: Aurora Australis seen from the Bendleby Ranges, SA on the weekend. Source: @bendlebyranges / Instagram

These colourful night lights could be seen much further outside the polar regions than usual, including Florida and Queensland, thanks to a powerful geomagnetic storm created by multiple coronal mass ejections (CMEs) from the Sun.

At its peak, last week’s geomagnetic storm reached the highest possible level on the G-scale (Extreme – G5), making this the first G5 storm since 2003.

The CMEs that caused last week’s spectacular auroral displays originated from a cluster of sunspots designated Sunspot Region 3664, a region which also produced significant solar flares during the same period. At one point last week, this massive and complex sunspot cluster was about 17 times the diameter of Earth.

FIND OUT MORE CORONAL MASS EJECTIONS AND SOLAR FLARES

While the powerful geomagnetic storm that caused last week’s aurora displays has now calmed down, Sunspot Region 3664 has remained active.

According to NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center, a solar flare with a magnitude of X8.7 was detected from Sunspot Region 3664 at 1651 UTC on May 14. X-Class flares are the strongest of four categories and this X8.7 flare is stronger than anything measured last week. In fact, it’s the strongest solar flare detected in the current solar cycle, which begun in 2019 and is expected to peak next year.

WHAT IS THE SOLAR CYCLE? FIND OUT HERE

Image: Predicted and observed sunspot numbers of the current solar cycle, which commenced in 2019. Source: NOAA / Space Weather Prediction Center.

However, while the X8.7 solar flare that occurred on May 14 was stronger than last week’s flares, it was not oriented towards Earth when it occurred, and it is currently unclear whether a CME associated with this flare could glance Earth later this week. As of 0030 UTC on May 15, NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center said that the CME associated with this week’s X8.7 flare “is currently being analyzed for any Earth-directed component.”

Given the orientation of Sunspot Region 3664 at the time of the X8.7 flare, it is unlikely that we will see a repeat of the weekend’s wide-reaching aurora displays in the coming nights, even if we do see a glancing effect from this event.

Image: The X8.7 solar flare – as seen in the bright flash on the right – on May 14, 2024. Credit: NASA/SDO

The current solar cycle is expected to peak in 2025 before declining over the next 5 to 7 years. Sunspot activity will remain elevated around the solar cycle’s peak, maintaining an elevated likelihood of aurora displays on Earth.  Contact us here.

Latest news

Satisfy your weather obsession with these news headlines from around the nation, and the world.

Increasing signs a positive IOD could develop this winter

There are increasing signs that a positive Indian Ocean Dipole could develop this winter, increasing the chance of abnormally dry and warm weather in some parts of Australia over the coming months.  What is the Indian Ocean Dipole?   The Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) is an index that measures the difference between sea surface temperatures […]

A great week for solar

Much of Australia will not see a drop of rainfall this week, with clear skies expected to increase solar output. The satellite image below shows much of Australia basking in Autumnal sunshine on Monday morning.  Image: Himawari-9 satellite image at 12:20pm AEST on Monday, May 20  The relatively dry week comes as a stubborn high-pressure […]

Subzero temps spread to Qld, NT

It was a chilly one overnight in southeastern Australia as you’d expect in the cold dry air in the wake of a cold front, but freezing temps were also recorded in our two northernmost states. Alice Springs recorded an overnight low of –0.3°C, the first subzero night of the year in the Northern Territory. For […]

Fog blankets Sydney halting ferries

Thick fog crept across Sydney on Friday morning, halting ferry services across the harbour for several hours.  The fog formed in pockets of Sydney’s west around 4am and funnelled into Sydney’s east via the Paramatta river early Friday morning.  The fog that Sydney’s east experienced this morning is called advection fog, where light northwesterly winds […]