Solar flares aren’t easy to break down in scientific terms. But, the Director of Clark Planetarium, Seth Jarvis, has a way of helping us all understand.
“Sun spots are often the source of solar flares and that's sort of a solar belch,” said Jarvis.
The sun spot is actually bigger than the earth. It created a solar flare Thursday morning just after midnight that was large enough that it could have affected satellites near the North Pole.
“When you look at the sun with the naked eye, with just an inexpensive pair of solar filters like you're getting ready for the eclipse, you can see this gnarly sun spot on the sun because it's actually bigger than the planet earth,” says Jarvis.
If the solar flare had been much bigger it could have affected satellite and radio frequencies closer to home. Take Quebec, Canada for example. In 1989, they had a massive black out from a solar flare. Millions of people were without power in the middle of winter.
No need to fear, Jarvis says. Thursday’s solar flare was a mid to high range explosion and posed no real threat to earth. But he does urge you to pay attention to it.
“No, not to be worried about, but you should be interested in it!” said Jarvis.
Sun spots appear roughly eleven years. It’s typical of the sun and nothing out of the ordinary. They often produce solar flares which are billions of tons of highly charged particles, mostly protons, exploding into outer space.
“So, it's cool that this is happening, but it's not unusual for it to happen. This is normal behavior for the sun as it ramps up to its next solar maximum,” said Jarvis.
Modern day technology provides two to three days notice before a solar flare strikes. This allows time to power down satellites until the sun storm is over. This leaves us safe and with a spectacular show in the skies.
If you’re planning on checking out the solar eclipse on May 20, you might as well buy your binocular and telescope eclipse filters now. It’s the same equipment you can use to safely view the sun spot.
The Salt Lake Astronomical Society is also hosting sun spot viewing parties in various locations. Just check out their website.