Radio, GPS blackout likely after huge solar flare over India, Southeast Asia

The Sun unleashed a massive ‘X-Class’ solar flare on Wednesday, causing major fluctuations in the ionosphere above India. The solar flare – that erupted was so strong that it had the potential to cause a radio blackout by impacting satellite communications and global positioning systems, according to the Centre of Excellence in Space Sciences India (CESSI).

The solar flare erupted from a region beyond the southwest limb of the Sun, impacting the most in areas over India, South East Asia and the Asia-Pacific regions.

“The X2.2 class solar flare eruption took place at 3:57 UTC (9:27 IST) from the solar magnetic active region AR12992,” Dibyendu Nandi, Associate Professor and Coordinator of CESSI at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Kolkata told news agency PTI.

The CESSI had predicted the eruption of the solar flare on April 18.

What is a solar flare?

Solar flares are brief and powerful eruptions of high-energy radiation from the sun’s surface, associated with sunspots. The phenomenon is known to cause radio and magnetic disturbances on Earth, affect electric power grids, navigation signals, and pose risks to spacecraft and astronauts.

The smallest ones are categorised as A-class (near background levels), followed by B, C, M and X.

According to NASA, similar to the Richter scale for earthquakes, each letter represents a 10-fold increase in energy output. An X class flare is ten times an M class eruption and 100 times a C class flare.

What happens in case of an X-class solar flare?

The X-class flares are the most intense flares based on a classification system that divides solar flares according to their strength, according to NASA. Meanwhile, the number provides more information about its strength.

In the case of the latest one, it was a Class ‘X2.2’ flare listed under code ‘severe’.

“Expected high-frequency communication blackouts, satellite anomalies, GPS scintillations, airline communication impacts,” the CESSI had tweeted. Airlines were also alerted regarding the solar flares.

Previously, an X-class solar flare had caused shortwave radio blackout and disturbances over southeast Asia and Australia. It was followed minutes later by a massive sun eruption, also known as a coronal mass ejection on the Eastern limb of the Sun, the CESSI reported.