The weather around West Texas has been pretty calm, but a few miles above our heads all hell is breaking loose!

Earlier in the week, geomagnetic storms were raging and Earth's magnetosphere could be taking a blow that could trigger very strong geomagnetic disturbances. This in turn may trigger extensive Aurora, so watch for that during hours of darkness. Monday and Tuesday evenings, sky watchers could see the red and green northern lights dancing as far south as Arkansas and the far northern parts of the Texas Panhandle.


The video above is from NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio. Solar flares can damage satellites and even ground-based technologies and power grids. Every 11 years, as the sun reaches its maximum activity (Solar Maximum) they become bigger and more common, and that increases the chances that one will significantly affect Earth.

So what are these solar eruptions? A solar flare is basically an explosion on the surface of the sun ranging from minutes to hours in length. Large flares can release enough energy to power the entire United States for a million years. Flares happen when the powerful magnetic fields in and around the sun reconnect. They're usually associated with active regions, often seen as sunspots, where the magnetic fields are strongest.

Flares are classified according to their strength. The smallest ones are B-class, followed by C, M and X, the largest. Similar to the Richter scale for earthquakes, each letter represents a ten-fold increase in energy output. So an X is 10 times an M and 100 times a C. Within each letter class, there is a finer scale from 1 to 9. C-class flares are too weak to noticeably affect Earth.

M-class flares can cause brief radio blackouts at the poles and minor radiation storms that might endanger astronauts. It's the X-class flares that are the real dangers. Although X is the last letter, there are flares more than 10 times the power of an X1, so X-class flares can go higher than 9. The most powerful flare on record was in 2003, during the last solar maximum. It was so powerful that it overloaded the sensors measuring it. They cut out at X17, and the flare was later estimated to be about X45. A powerful X-class flare like that can create long lasting radiation storms, which can harm satellites, and even give airline passengers flying near the poles higher than average radiation doses. X flares also have the potential to create global transmission problems and worldwide blackouts.

We don't know instantly when these flares happen since radio signals travel at the speed of light. We'll know about 9 minutes afterward since that is the time it takes light to travel from the sun to the earth.

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