(Sen) - The Sun is becoming increasingly active as we approach the peak in the 11 year solar cycle next year. This means there are more solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs). The CMEs are much larger eruptions than the localised flares, often being larger than the Sun itself.
A large solar flare erupted at 00:00 GMT on 7 March 2012, making it the second largest X-class flare since the start of this solar cycle. X-class flares are the most powerful type of solar flares, with M-class being next in line.
The largest flare of the current cycle occurred on 9 August 2011, and the last large flare of the previous cycle occurred in 2006.
Just over an hour after the initial flare, a second, smaller flare erupted from the same active region on the Sun. The active region, called AR 1429, rotated into view on 2 March.
Previous M-class flares and one X-class flare had already erupted from the region, but the one on 7 March was positioned better to spew material in the direction of Earth. It caused a minor radio blackout on the dayside of the Earth that interfered with short wave radio.
The flares have also infused the Earth atmosphere with solar particles, producing what is known as a solar radiation storm which can interfere with high frequency radio communications.
Further analysis by the Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) and the Solar Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) have shown that the two flares travelled away from the Sun at speeds of 2,100 and 1,800 kilometres per second respectively.
In addition to the solar flares, the Sun also blasted two coronal mass ejections (CMEs) towards Earth. These travel slower than the flares, at around 960 kilometres per second, and the leading edge of the first CME reached NASA's Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) satellite at 10:42 GMT on 8 March. This satellite lies just outside of the Earth’s magnetic environment.
Instruments on Earth then began to detect the effects of the CMEs, however this has thus far only been classed as a minor G1 geomagnetic storm, on a scale of G1 to G5.
The solar activity should produce displays of aurora.