February 19, 2020

Astro-Vid Of the Week: Remembering the Halloween Flares of 2003

The Sun unleashes an X-Class flare on October 28th, 2003 as seen in UV.

(Credit: NASA/SOHO).

Our nearest star gave us a scare a decade ago this week. Back in 2003, none of us knew what Facebook or YouTube was, and most of us were still using ye’ ole message boards and chat rooms to discuss such seminal arguments as Kirk vs. Picard.

Sol was also just coming off of its peak for Cycle #23, and still had a trick or two up its sleeve. The action began with an X-ray Class X17.2 flare on October 28th, 2003. Over the next week, communications would be disrupted and Halloween goblins would be treated to an awesome display of northern lights in what would become known as the great Halloween Solar Storm of 2003. Yes, we still trick-or-treated in actual darkness in those days, before –cue conspiratorial tone- “Big Sugar” schemed to move the switch back off of Daylight Saving Time to the first Sunday of November.

Over the next week, the Sun would kick off no less than six X-Class flares, including an X-28 whopper, which was, thankfully, not aimed at us.

And it’s interesting to note that as we approach Halloween this year, we may be getting set up for a repeat performance. Sol is starting to look much more like its solar max self as we cross the peak of solar cycle #24. Several sunspot groups, including Active Region 1882, are just now turning towards us and crackling with the energy to produce powerful X-class flares. And we’re also due for a hybrid solar eclipse on November 3rd… could the Sun decide to kick off a well placed and photogenic Coronal Mass Ejection during totality to wow eclipse chasers? Now, that would be a sight unseen since 1860!

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