Saturday, July 7, 2012

X1.1 Solar Flare in AR1515

Serendipity strikes again!  Yesterday evening, after getting home from work, I decided to check out the solar conditions and to look at the new sunspot complex just coming into view.   For reference, here is a NASA white-light image showing the position of various sunspots today.  The new complex is on the lower-left and AR1515, which has been very active recently, is on the lower-right.  Note the size of Earth in comparison!

I set up my Lunt LS60T/PS Hydrogen-Alpha telescope with a DMK41.AU02 camera and a 3x tele-extender.  There was lots of activity across the entire surface so I decided to make a high resolution mosaic image of the surface and the prominences.  

Near the beginning of my sequence, I obtained this image of AR1515 at 22h52 UTC.  Some activity in the region, but nothing spectacular.

AR1515 Sunspot - 22h52 UTC
After sequencing through about 20 frames, I went back to admire AR1515 again. To my amazement, it looked quite different.  After verifying that I had not inadvertently changed the exposure parameters,  I captured this image at 23h16 UTC.

AR1515 Sunspot - 23h16 UTC
Clearly a flare had erupted in the intervening 24 minutes.  I did not have enough experience to judge if this was a large or small event, but it was bigger than anything else I had seen in my telescope. 

Since the camera was saturated at this exposure, I reduced the exposure length by a few stops to see more detail.  I continued to capture frames at this exposure as the flared died down.  A few of these are shown in the sequence below.

AR1515 Sunspot - 23h17 UTC
AR1515 Sunspot -23h21 UTC
AR1515 Sunspot -23h23 UTC
AR1515 Sunspot -23h27 UTC
AR1515 Sunspot -23h33 UTC
AR1515 Sunspot -23h35 UTC
AR1515 Sunspot -23h37 UTC
This was my first capture of an obvious flare in progress.  The next morning, I received a news bulletin on my iPhone application "3D Sun" indicating that a class X1.1 flare had occurred at 23h08 UTC in the AR1515 complex.  Right in the middle of taking the mosaic.

Solar Bulletin received on iPhone
This event has even made it onto a number of internet news sites as the biggest flare event of the summer season, though not nearly as large as the X5.4 event on March 6, 2012.  Never know what you are going to see when you look at the sun!

UPDATE  2012.07.08 - Completed the original mosaic image of solar disk and prominences.

Mosaic including flare image from 23h16 UTC

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