By Damien Gayle
PUBLISHED: 05:27 EST, 17 April 2012 | UPDATED: 09:24 EST, 17 April 2012
A spectacular solar flare erupted from the Sun’s northeastern limb yesterday, sending an beautiful arcing jet of super-heated plasma blasting off into space.
The explosion, captured by Nasa’s Solar Dynamics Observatory at about 5.45pm yesterday evening, was one of the most beautiful seen in years.
It measured at just a moderate M1 on the scale of sun storms, which placed it in the middle of the scale scientists use to measure flare strength.
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Spectacular: A beautiful prominence eruption producing a coronal mass ejection (CME) shot off the east limb of the sun yesterday evening at 5.45pm
Nevertheless, its location – shooting off from the sun’s left side – allowed Nasa to capture this remarkable footage of the flare from the SDO spacecraft.
‘Great eruption happening on the sun now,’ Nasa scientists wrote in a Twitter post.
The spectacular flare erupted from an active region of the sun which may also be responsible for solar storm activity seen on Sunday, officials from the agency told Space.com.
‘Such eruptions are often associated with solar flares, and in this case an M1 class (medium-sized) flare occurred at the same time, peaking at 1:45 PM EDT. The CME (coronal mass ejection) was not aimed toward Earth,’ Nasa said.
When they are pointed in our direction, strong solar flares and CMEs charge the Earth’s auroras – known better as the northern and southern lights – Space.com explained.
Great balls of fire: These images were captured by Nasa’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. This sequence of photos was taken at 15 minute intervals, beginning 17:44:21
The flare photographed at 18:00:33
The flare photographed at 18:15:09
Solar flares are measured on a letter scale, with the strongest classified as C, M and X.
X class storms are the most powerful events and when blowing in the direction of Earth they can pose a danger to orbiting astronauts and spacecraft, as well as power grids, communications and navigation systems on the ground.
MailOnline science last month reported how the magnetic field around the sun is set to change in the next decades, cutting down the number of sunspots and explosive solar events.
However, those events that do occur will be more damaging, with experts warning that our spacecraft and aircraft may be unable to cope.
Changes in the Sun’s magnetic field could also leave our planet more exposed to galactic cosmic rays – and people in planes and spacecraft would bear the brunt of this alien radiation.
Dramatic: This sequence of photos shows the eruption as seen through a UV filter
The space age has coincided with a period of unusually high solar activity, called a grand maximum.
Isotopes in ice sheets and tree rings tell us that this grand solar maximum is one of 24 during the last 9,300 years – the high levels of solar magnetic field seen over the space age will reduce in future.
This might sound like good news – but the changes in the sun’s magnetic field could leave Earth vulnerable to blasts of galactic cosmic rays. Solar storms could also become more violent.
The most probable scenario, according to Luke Barnard of the University of Reading, is that solar activity will decline, leading cosmic rays to increase by a factor of 1.5 and Earth to be battered by eight large solar eruptions every century.
Mr. Barnard says, ‘Radiation in space can be a serious issue for both people and the delicate electronic systems that society depends on. Our research shows that this problem is likely to get worse over the coming decades – and that engineers will need to work even harder to mitigate its impact.’