Scientists observe one of the strongest solar flares of the past 30 years

December 16th, 2008 - 5:35 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Dec 16 (ANI): Scientists at the California Institute of Technology, US, have observed one of the strongest solar flares of the past 30 years.

Solar flares are the most powerful explosions in the solar system. Packing a punch equal to a hundred million hydrogen bombs, they obliterate everything in their immediate vicinity.

Weve detected a stream of perfectly intact hydrogen atoms shooting out of an X-class solar flare, said Richard Mewaldt of the California Institute of Technology. What a surprise! If we can understand how these atoms were produced, well be that much closer to understanding solar flares, he added.

The event occurred on December 5, 2006.

A large sunspot rounded the suns eastern limb and with little warning it exploded. On the Richter scale of flares, which ranks X1 as a big event, the blast registered X9, making it one of the strongest flares of the past 30 years.

NASA managers braced themselves.

Such a ferocious blast usually produces a blizzard of high-energy particles dangerous to both satellites and astronauts. They arrived an hour later, but they were not the particles that researchers had expected.

NASAs twin Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory (STEREO) spacecraft made the discovery.

It was a burst of hydrogen atoms, said Mewaldt. No other elements were present, not even helium. Pure hydrogen streamed past the spacecraft for a full 90 minutes, he added.

Next came 30 minutes of quiet.

The burst subsided and STEREOs particle counters returned to low levels. The event seemed to be over when a second wave of particles enveloped the spacecraft.

These were the broken atoms flares are supposed to produceprotons and heavier ions such as helium, oxygen and iron.

Mewaldt is now looking forward to more X-flares now that the two STEREO spacecraft are widely separated on nearly opposite sides of the Sun. (ANI)

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