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By Cheryl Kahla

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SA space agency issues warning of M-Class solar flare in progress

Solar flares can interfere with communication and navigation systems. In some cases, it can even interfere with power grids.

The South African National Space Agency (Sansa) issued a space weather alert on Tuesday, warning that an M-Class solar flare is currently in progress.

Sansa said solar wind speed will remain “at slightly elevated levels with slight enhancements due to the anticipated arrival of the high-speed stream (HSS)”.

Solar flare alert

Sansa said HF (high frequency) signal absorption is possible, meaning that HF communications may be affected by the flare.

As per the alert: “Frequencies of up to 30 MHz may be affected. No estimated recovery time”.

WATCH: Recent solar flare alert

What is an M-class solar flare?

A solar flare is an explosion that occurs when the energy stored in the Sun’s magnetic fields is released, and solar flares are classified under three categories: X-Class, M-Class and C-Class.

And M-Class solar flare is moderate-sized; it is the second-strongest type of flare and capable of causing radio frequency blackouts at Earth’s poles.

Occasionally, these flares are also accompanied by minor radiation storms. However, we have nothing to fear today, the flare will only affect HF communication signals.

Other types of solar flares

The most powerful class of solar flares are the X-Class – these can trigger planet-wide radio blackouts and in some cases even severe radiation storms.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), two X-Class flares erupted in February – one on the 11th which originated from an area on the Sun called Active Region 3217.

A second X-flare was recorded on 19 February, peaking at 17:48 South African Standard Time (SAST). Both flares disrupted communications in South America.

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WATCH: Recent X-Class solar flare

NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) warns that X-class flares can be 10 times the size of Earth, and can produce “as much energy as a billion hydrogen bombs”. [1]

In addition, the NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center predicts more flares could be released over the coming days – it would primarily affect South American countries and cause R3 radio blackouts (wide area blackout of HF radio communication, loss of radio contact for about an hour on sunlit side of Earth). [2]

As per the centre’s official alert, “more flares are expected as this region [South America] moves across the Sun, creating occasional degradation of high-frequency communication.”

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[1] NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Classifying Solar Eruptions, Karen C. Fox, 24 January 2012.
[2] Space Weather Prediction Centre, The Return of the X-Flares