Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Biggest ever solar flare was even bigger than thought


Physicists in New Zealand have shown that last November’s record-breaking solar explosion was much larger than previously estimated, thanks to innovative research using the upper atmosphere as a gigantic x-ray detector. Their findings have been accepted for 17 March publication in Geophysical Research Letters, published by the American Geophysical Union.

On 4 November 2003, the largest solar flare ever recorded exploded from the Sun’s surface, sending an intense burst of radiation streaming towards the Earth. Before the storm peaked, x-rays overloaded the detectors on the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES), forcing scientists to estimate the flare’s size.

Taking a different route, researchers from the University of Otago used radio wave-based measurements of the x-rays’ effects on the Earth’s upper atmosphere to revise the flare’s size from a merely huge X28 to a "whopping" X45, say researchers Neil Thomson, Craig Rodger, and Richard Dowden. X-class flares are major events that can trigger radio blackouts around the world and long-lasting radiation storms in the upper atmosphere that can damage or destroy satellites. The biggest previous solar flares on record were rated X20, on 2 April 2001 and 16 August 1989.

"This makes it more than twice as large as any previously recorded flare, and if the accompanying particle and magnetic storm had been aimed at the Earth, the damage to some satellites and electrical networks could have been considerable," says Thomson. Their calculations show that the flare’s x-ray radiation bombarding the atmosphere was equivalent to that of 5,000 Suns, though none of it reached the Earth’s surface, the researchers say.

At the time of the flare, the researchers were probing the ionosphere with radio waves as part of a long-term research program. Their new measurement comes from observations of the indirect effects of the increased x-ray radiation on very low frequency (VLF) radio transmissions across the Pacific Ocean from Washington State, North Dakota, and Hawaii to their receivers in Dunedin, New Zealand.

"Increases in x-rays enhance the ionosphere, causing its lowest region to decrease in altitude, which in turn affects the phase of VLF transmissions. Our previous research shows that these phase shifts are proportional to the number of kilometers [miles] by which the ionosphere is lowered," they say. As the lowering is known to relate directly to the amount of x-ray radiation present, the team could make a new measurement of the flare’s size, they say.

"We were at the right place, at the right time with the right knowledge--which was based on nearly 15 years of work by staff and students in the Physics Department’s Space Physics Group." The research would not have been possible, they added, without data provided by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Space Environment Center, which came up with the initial X28 estimate.

"We used their solar measurements to calibrate the response of the atmosphere to x-rays, so when this event overloaded the satellite detectors, we were in a unique position to make this measurement. Given that any future flares are unlikely to be large enough to overload the ionosphere, we believe that our new method has great advantages in determining their size in the event of satellite detector overloads," they say.

Harvey Leifert | AGU
Further information:

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht OU-led team discovers rare, newborn tri-star system using ALMA
27.10.2016 | University of Oklahoma

nachricht First results of NSTX-U research operations
26.10.2016 | DOE/Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

How nanoscience will improve our health and lives in the coming years

27.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

OU-led team discovers rare, newborn tri-star system using ALMA

27.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

'Neighbor maps' reveal the genome's 3-D shape

27.10.2016 | Life Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>