X-ray classifications

In my last blog I wrote about solar flares  and how they can be deadly to unfortunate astronauts caught in their path. In order to predict these flares we use a superSID monitor, or rather lots of superSIDs working together. Solar flares occur when the suns magnetic fields cross paths and twist to the point that they snap, rather like an elastic band would. The resulting energy release is equivalent to many millions of tons of explosive being blasted into space.

These flares are made up of different parts of the electromagnetic spectrum, including X-rays. X-rays span 3 decades in wavelength, frequency and energy. From 10 to 0.1 nanometers (nm) (about 0.12 to 12 keV) they are classified as soft x-rays, and from 0.1 nm to 0.01 nm (about 12 to 120 keV) as hard X-rays. 

X-rays are actually classified according to certain properties. There are 5 categories A, B, C, M and X. These categories are then subdivided into 9 smaller categories A1-9, B1-9, C1-9, M1-9 and X which has no upper level. Similar to the Richter scale for earthquakes, each letter represents a 10-fold increase in energy output. So an X is ten times an M and 100 times a C.

A and B class flares cannot be detected by our superSID monitor as they are too small, but they are the most frequently occurring flare. Our monitor should start to pick up readings from C1 flares so long as you are in a quiet area. Otherwise C5 flares are more likely to be the minimum detected.

Less frequent, but substantially larger are the M class flares. M5 flares have the potential to cause disruption to satellites and communications. Warnings are generally issued in the event of M5 flares. M5 flares are capable of causing aurora borialis, so our superSID monitor can be put to other practical uses.

The rarest and most powerful flares are the X class, which can be too powerful for our amateur superSID monitor and overwhelm it. Mobile phone networks, GPS and power lines are all susceptible to X class flares. The largest recorded flare was X28. These huge flares can cause aurora to be seen much further south than normal.

X class flares are the largest explosions in our solar system with loops tens of times the size of earth projecting out of the suns surface before looping back down again.

The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) spacecraft captured this image of a solar flare as it erupted from the sun early on Tuesday, October 28, 2003. Image Credit: ESA & NASA/SOHO

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