A Space.com article has a spectacular photo capture that clearly shows the “double whammy”: A mid sized M1 flare and an erupting filament that occurred almost at the same time on January 28.
A brief YouTube video displays NASA’s real time film (January 26-28) of the double eruptions. The action happens very quickly and does not seem at first to be that spectacular. But in fact, these were two major events. A filament became unstable and erupted. It is shown on the lower left side of the sun. Then a mid-sized M1 Flare from a coronal mass ejection into space happened on the upper right side of the sun. There were also other flares and flashes during the period of 24 to 28 January.
An MSNBC space article says that NASA and other research suggests connected or almost simultaneous solar flare ups and storms can occur all over the Sun. In December, scientists suggested that violent and significant solar storms can go off across the entire surface of the Sun at the same time or very close together. This means that the whole Sun needs to be examined, as opposed to the traditional method of studying isolated parts of the orb.
The classes for solar storms and flares are important in determining whether they will have an effect on Earthbound satellites and on the planet. There is a three tier system for classifying these events.
X Class flares can trigger planet wide radio blackouts and radiation storms.
M class flares are medium-size storms that can cause brief radio blackouts at Earth’s polar regions along with minor radiation storms.
C Class flares are small and have few, if any noticeable consequences.
Two agencies have assets in space to monitor the Sun’s activity. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colo. and NASA have satellites on both sides of the Sun that can view 90 percent of the surface, according to Space.com. These two satellites are called the STEREO (Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory).
There is also SDO, or Solar Dynamics Laboratory, which was launched last February. This device has abilities to photograph with spectral, temporal and spatial resolution that has never been seen before. In addition, there are older and other systems for monitoring the activity of the Sun.
Why such interest in the Sun? According to Space.com there have been expectations of more solar activity with some nasty storms ahead since 2008. This may not mean that storms are getting nastier than they have ever been. It means that the world’s increasing dependency on delicate electronic systems, especially the power grids, any number of devices and satellite based telecommunications infrastructure has created vastly more areas of dependency and vulnerability.
In other words, perhaps the space and ground based web and communications infrastructure can be compared to facilities that would have built on the slopes of a very large, unpredictable and active volcano.