Science

A massive solar flare knocked out radios in Africa and the Middle East on Friday

An active sunspot about to leave the visible disk of the Sun fired its farewell flare at Earth, causing a radio outage in Africa and the Middle East on Friday morning (September 16).

The solar flare, classified as M8 in the second most powerful flare category, moved away from the Sun at 5:49 am EDT (0949 GMT) on Friday, disrupting shortwave radio communications in parts of the world facing the sun. According to Spaceweather.com (will open in a new tab)radio amateurs in Africa and the Middle East could experience signal distortion up to an hour after the outbreak.

The UK Met Office predicts more flares before sunspot AR3098 disappears behind the Sun’s limb (the edge of the Sun’s visible disk). Space weather forecasters believe that a coronal mass ejection (CME), an ejection of charged plasma from the Sun’s upper atmosphere, the corona, may have accompanied the flare and may have been heading towards Earth. If so, the planet could experience a geomagnetic storm later this weekend, the Met Office said in a statement. (will open in a new tab).

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The Met Office said another, milder outbreak occurred on Thursday (September 15) associated with the CME, which is still being analyzed for its ability to hit and affect the Earth. All of this could be good news for aurora hunters, as the spectacular aurora can become stronger and more visible away from their usual aurora regions.

Things are expected to calm down after busy sunspot AR3098 makes its final bow, which is expected to take place later during the weekend, the Met Office said. Three more sunspots are currently visible on the Sun’s surface, all of which “seem stable and relatively simple in terms of magnetic field,” the Met Office said. Space weather forecasters are not currently detecting any suspicious activity that could signal the approach of other active sunspots beyond the eastern edge of the Sun that may not yet be visible.

The Sun also currently has a coronal hole, a hole in the magnetic field lines from which the solar wind blows at a faster-than-normal speed, which could further contribute to aurora activity at higher latitudes. All the solar wind and CME combined are not expected to cause anything but a minor geomagnetic storm, meaning that electrical and radio communications technology on Earth should not be subject to disruption.

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