Solar flares bid fiery goodbye to 2013 and welcome to 2014 (photos)

3 Jan 2014

Detail of the solar flare that erupted on 1 January. Photo via NASA/SDO

Huge solar flares that erupted from the sun’s surface in a brilliant end to 2013 and start of 2014 have been captured on camera by US space agency NASA.

Both flares emerged from the same region on the sun, according to NASA.

The first flare (the orange photo) peaked at 4.58pm EST (9.58pm Irish time) on 31 December, and the second flare (the purple photo), reached its maximum at 1.52pm EST (6.52pm Irish time) on 1 January.

Solar flares occur when magnetic energy that has built up in the solar atmosphere is suddenly released, emitting radiation, according to NASA.

While the radiation can’t pass through the Earth’s atmosphere to affect humans, it can disturb the atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communications signals travel. The result is disrupted radio signals for the duration of the flare, which can range from minutes to hours.

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory captured the images of the flares, collecting new data every 12 seconds.

The classification of solar flares

Scientists classify solar flares based on their X-ray brightness in a wavelength range of 1 to 8 Angstroms, according to

Solar flares can fall within one of three categories: X-class flares, which are big, major events that can trigger planet-wide radio blackouts and long-lasting radiation storms.

M-class flares are medium-sized and can cause brief radio blackouts that affect the Earth’s polar regions. Minor radiation storms sometimes follow an M-class flare.

C-class flares are small, and have few noticeable effects on Earth.

Dec 31 solar flare

An M6.4 class solar flare erupts from the sun in this image from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, which was captured on 31 December, at 4.59pm EST (9.59pm Irish time). Image via NASA/SDO

Jan 1 solar flare

Several wavelengths of light are combined in this 1 January solar flare image, categorised as an M9.9 and peaking at 1.52pm EST (6.52pm Irish time) that day. Each wavelength represents material at a different temperatures, helping scientists understand how it is moved and heated through these events. Image via NASA/SDO

Tina Costanza was a journalist and sub-editor at Silicon Republic