Sun to blame for satellite launch cancellation

Space weather experts say this year’s powerful solar flare erupted from a sunspot region known as X3.15 A strongly energised sunspot region ignited a powerful solar flare that caused NASA to cancel its planned…

Sun to blame for satellite launch cancellation

Space weather experts say this year’s powerful solar flare erupted from a sunspot region known as X3.15

A strongly energised sunspot region ignited a powerful solar flare that caused NASA to cancel its planned live stream of the launch of a new spacecraft, and received two major product warnings from the US space agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the European Space Agency.

The relatively weak flare, which erupted on 3 April from a sunspot region known as X3.15, was classified as an M4 storm, which produced a yellowish flare dot of light that was detected by the space-based Solar Dynamics Observatory. The solar flare is expected to generate a geomagnetic storm, according to the National Weather Service. The M4 rating is unusually strong for the region.

But a stronger solar flare also illuminated the sun’s corona, creating a colour-coded flare map for NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, which was due to be released by the agency today, 21 April. The spacecraft was targeted to launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 4:54pm (1754 GMT) and would be the first of its kind to explore the sun’s mysteries.

“A similar flare that occurred on 31 March will not be observed by the Parker Solar Probe,” said an Air Force spokesman.

Both Nasa and the National Weather Service designated the flare as a “quadrantine flare”, indicating that it was of high intensity.

Space weather experts say this year’s powerful solar flare erupted from a sunspot region known as X3.15, which is particularly active. The solar-active sunspot region likely originated from a fiery “sunspot spaghetti” pattern, according to the US Space Weather Prediction Center.

“The sunspot region we are currently observing has twice the rate of prominence initiation as its primary spot,” said NOAA Space Weather Research Centre’s principal scientist Philip Coyle.

A flare from this region should be expected to range between 70cm and 1,020cm, according to the Space Weather Prediction Center.

The US space agency went to great lengths to protect its satellite launch from an impending solar storm, invoking a page from the Doomsday Book of the 1987 film Wall Street. The new Parker Solar Probe had it’s protective shield deployed just hours before its scheduled launch.

If a strong geomagnetic storm began to disrupt communications or power grids, such a disruption would likely take several days to occur. However, with a powerful CME (coronal mass ejection) most predicted computer crashes could occur in the first half hour, NOAA reports.

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