To measure the strength of a geomagnetic storm, scientists measure something called Kp index, which measures the rate of change of magnetic fields near Earth. One of the most common forms of space weather, a geomagnetic storm refers to any time Earth's magnetic environment, the magnetosphere, undergoes sudden and repeated change.
Geomagnetic storms occur when certain types of CMEs connect up with the outside of the magnetosphere for an extended period of time.
The next phase, the main phase, can last hours to days, as charged particles sweeping into the magnetosphere accumulate more energy and more speed. The final stage of a geomagnetic storm lasts a few days as the magnetosphere returns to its original state. Geomagnetic storms are measured by ground-based instruments that observe how much the horizontal component of Earth's magnetic field varies. A solar radiation storm, which is also sometimes called a solar energetic particle (SEP) event, is much what it sounds like: an intense inflow of radiation from the sun.
Solar radiation storms are rated on a scale from S1 (minor) to S5 (extreme), determined by how many very energetic, fast solar particles move through a given space in the atmosphere. Radio blackouts occur when the strong, sudden burst of x-rays from a solar flare hits Earth's atmosphere, jamming both high and low frequency radio signals. There's been a lot of activity on the surface of the sun this year, and Tuesday morning was no exception. While X-class solar flares are considered the most potent, the eruptions generally pose no threat to Earth. An X1-class flare erupts from the right side of the sun in this image captured by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory on Nov. Solar activity has ramped up in the past several months as the sun reaches the peak of its 11-year solar cycle. The sun may be an average star when compared to the menagerie of stars that exist in our galaxy, but to Earth and all life on our planet, the sun is the most important object in the Universe. The X4.9 flare was caught through the range of SDO fliters, including this dramatic view as seen through the 131A filter. Intense coronal activity is often associated with active regions -- the active lower corona is pictured here, left. In the case of AR1990, a large sunspot can be seen at the base of the coronal loops that erupted to generate the powerful flare.
The HMI monitors magnetic activity across the disk of the sun and can also generate a picture on the direction of the magnetic field polarity. Approximately an hour after the flare, the CME grew and continued to barrel into interplanetary space. On Saturday, the sun erupted with an X-class solar flare, blasting Earth with powerful electromagnetic radiation.
Although we are well protected from the worst effects of radiation from solar flares, ionizing X-ray and extreme ultraviolet radiation can have a disruptive impact on unshielded satellite electronics and can even give unprotected astronauts an increased radiation dose. The flare also generated its own radio signal; as the flarea€™s shock wave blasted through the suna€™s corona (its atmosphere), an intense radio signal was generated and was recorded as powerful shortwave radio static.

The sun is currently experiencing the wane of solar maximum, the peak of its approximate 11-year solar cycle.
It begins with an eruption such as a huge burst of light and radiation called a solar flare or a gigantic cloud of solar material called a coronal mass ejection (CME). This is a time when magnetic fields continually re-align and energy dances quickly from one area to another. Both CME's and solar flares can carry such radiation, made up of protons and other charged particles. At their most extreme, solar radiation storms can cause complete high frequency radio blackouts, damage to electronics, memory and imaging systems on satellites, and radiation poisoning to astronauts outside of Earth's magnetosphere.
The X-rays disturb a layer of Earth's atmosphere known as the ionosphere, through which radio waves travel. The strongest radio blackouts can result in no radio communication and faulty GPS for hours at a time.
The pictures, stiched together from photographs taken on cloud-free nights, come from the Suomi NPP satellite and show the planet in more detail than ever before. However, a powerful flare directed toward Earth can affect satellites or astronauts in orbit. However, regardless of its importance and close proximity, our nearest star holds many mysteries that continue to fox solar physicists after decades of modern studies with cutting-edge observatories. Space weather forecasters don't expect that this CME will interact with the Earth's atmosphere as it is not Earth-directed.
Although we couldna€™t directly feel its effects on the ground, the impact of this event was measured as a dramatic radio blackout for several minutes, highlighting the fact that the sun isna€™t quite done with solar maximum yet. Our atmosphere is a thick shield that protects our biology from the suna€™s worst solar flares, but thata€™s not to say that they cana€™t impact our lives. The aptly-named ionosphere is used for communications where radio waves are bounced around the globe. Solar Cycle 24 has been a a€?below averagea€? cycle exhibiting lower levels of magnetic activity a€” but as Saturdaya€™s flare proves, ita€™s still capable of generating some impressive explosive displays. If the fields point northward, they align with the magnetosphere's own fields and the energy and particles simply slide around Earth, causing little change.
These intense magnetic regions form when high-speed solar winds overtake slower ones, thus creating complicated patterns of fluctuating magnetic fields.
The radiation is blocked by the magnetosphere and atmosphere, so cannot reach humans on Earth. The constant changes in the ionosphere change the paths of the radio waves as they move, thus degrading the information they carry. Contrary to what you may have read or heard, Nasa has in no way issued any statement regarding three (or six) days of darkness in December due to a solar storm. One of the biggest mysteries surrounding the sun is the underlying mechanisms that drive solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs).
25) -- pictured here on the far left -- the active region (AR) 1990 was crackling with activity.

This observation was captured by SOHO's LASCO C3 instrument -- an occulting disk covers the sun to block out any glaring effect.
A solar flare occurs when highly-stressed magnetic field lines are forced together over regions of intense magnetic activity, descriptively known as a€?active regions.a€? These regions are often associated with sunspot clusters a€” this is why astronomers keep count of sunspots in an effort to record solar activity. This extensive ionization event caused the propagation of radio waves to wildly fluctuate, eventually blocking them all together. Scientists monitor several kinds of space "weather" events -- geomagnetic storms, solar radiation storms, and radio blackouts a€“ all caused by these immense explosions on the sun. But if the magnetic fields point southward, in the opposite direction of Earth's fields, the effects can be dramatic.
The increase a€“ and lower altitude a€“ of radiation can also damage satellites traveling around Earth. These, too, can interact with the edges of Earth's magnetosphere and create weak to moderate geomagnetic storms. Such a storm could, however, harm humans traveling from Earth to the moon or Mars, though it has little to no effect on airplane passengers or astronauts within Earth's magnetosphere. The flare triggered a radio blackout at the same time, officials at NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center said. Monday evening (EST), the sun reminded us that it hasn't quite finished with the current solar maximum (of solar cycle 24), unleashing a powerful X4.9 solar flare -- the biggest of 2014.
Then, as magnetic field lines from the sun's interior forced together and through the solar photosphere, large-scale reconnection events occurred. The blast was so powerful that the impulsive electrical currents generated in the ionosphere caused vast waves to ripple through our planeta€™s magnetic field.
The sun's magnetic fields peel back the outermost layers of Earth's fields changing the whole shape of the magnetosphere. Solar radiation storms can also disturb the regions through which high frequency radio communications travel. The loss of low frequency radio communication causes GPS measurements to be off by feet to miles, and can also affect the applications that govern satellite positioning. An armada of space telescopes witnessed the event, including NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory that can spy the sun's temper tantrums in astounding high definition. Therefore, during a solar radiation storm, airplanes traveling routes near the poles a€“ which cannot use GPS, but rely exclusively on radio communications a€“ may be re-routed. During this transition, the entire Universe will face a big change, and we will see an entire brand new world". EST (00:44 UT) -- second frame from the right -- a kinked coronal loop can be seen rising into the corona.

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