Physicists in New Zealand have shown that last Novembers 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 Suns 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 flares size.
Taking a different route, researchers from the University of Otago used radio wave-based measurements of the x-rays effects on the Earths upper atmosphere to revise the flares 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.
Harvey Leifert | AGU
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