By Joseph Castro, Space.com Contributor
Four spacecraft and one ground-based observatory recorded the eruption of a powerful X-class solar flare on March 29, making it the best-observed such event in history, NASA officials say.
Solar flares are powerful explosions with energies exceeding that of millions of hydrogen bombs. Never before has an X-class flare — the most energetic type — been observed by so many telescopes at once. A NASA video of the monster solar flare features several views of the March 29 sun storm.
The data from the unprecedented observation could help scientists better understand what catalyzes flares, and possibly predict when they will happen in the future — valuable information, considering that flares can cause radio blackouts on Earth, potentially disrupting aircraft, ship and military communication.
The National Solar Observatory’s Dunn Solar Telescope at Sacramento Peak in New Mexico witnessed the March 29 flare, as did Japan’s Hinode satellite and three NASA spacecraft: the Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS), Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) and Reuven Ramaty High Energy Solar Spectroscopic Imager (RHESSI).
“Some of the spacecraft observe the whole sun all the time, but three of the observatories had coordinated in advance to focus on a specific active region of the sun,” Jonathan Cirtain, project scientist for Hinode at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., said in a statement.
“We need at least a day to program in observation time and the target — so it was extremely fortunate that we caught this X-class flare,” Cirtain added.
In addition, NASA’s Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) and the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO), a joint NASA/European Space Agency effort, studied a coronal mass ejection (CME) that accompanied the flare.
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