Monster Sunspot’s Solar Flare Strong Enough to Confuse Satellites

Sunspot AR 1476 compared to the size of Jupiter. Image released May 10, 2012.

An enormous sunspot unleashed a powerful solar flare late Wednesday (May 16), triggering a radiation storm intense enough to interfere with some satellites orbiting Earth, space weather experts said.

The flare erupted from monster sunspot complex AR 1476, which stretches about 60,000 miles (100,000 kilometers) from end to end, at 9:47 p.m. EDT Wednesday (0147 GMT Thursday). The flare spawned a class S2 solar radiation storm around our planet, according to the Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC), a branch of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminstration.

An SWPC description classifies S2 solar radiation storms as moderate, with the potential to cause infrequent “single-event upsets” in Earth-orbiting satellites. People aboard aircraft flying at high latitudes may also be exposed to elevated radiation levels during such events.

The flare also caused limited radio blackouts on the sunlit side of Earth, SWPC researchers said, adding that the radiation storm appears to be subsiding.

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