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Maybe astronauts too: NASA warns as huge solar flare threatens comms

NASA has issued a warning about powerful solar flares that could potentially disrupt communications both in space and on Earth.

The latest flare, which peaked at 5:34 p.m. EST on Feb. 22, 2024, has been classified as an X6.3 event, making it a significant occurrence in solar activity.

Solar flares are categorized into five classes: A, B, C, M, and X, with X-class flares being the most powerful. This recent X6.3 event is particularly notable, ranking as one of the largest recorded flares since 2017.

Preceding this event were an X1.8 flare on Wednesday and an X1.7-rated event earlier on Thursday. These combined flares raise concerns for potential disruptions to communication systems, especially for operators of high-frequency radios.

While the X6.3 flare may cause temporary signal degradation or loss for high-frequency radio operators, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration assures that it poses no significant threat to the general public. However, all flares, regardless of classification, have the potential to interfere with radar and GPS systems.

For astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) and China’s Tiangong space station, solar flares present a more immediate concern due to the hazardous radiation they emit. Although the ISS crew is not scheduled for duties over the weekend, they remain vigilant as solar activity continues.

Despite their impact on space-based systems, the recent solar flares are not responsible for the cellular network outages experienced across the USA.

These events occur within the context of Solar Cycle 25, which began in 2019 and is expected to continue until around 2030, with its peak anticipated in 2025. While the X6.3 flare represents the largest of this cycle thus far, further solar activity is anticipated as the cycle progresses.

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