March 2001 Solar Storm

On March 23, 2001, Active Region 9393 (AR9393) appeared on the Sun’s eastern limb. Over the next few days, AR9393 became magnetically complex, resulting in six M-class flares. By March 28th, a CME had erupted near AR9393 and 18 active regions began to be tracked. On the next day, AR9393 hit its largest point, with an area of 13 Earths, 0.1% of the solar surface area. An extremely powerful X-class flare erupted. AR 9393 continues to grow and became the largest sunspot group since October 1991. During this time, a Solar Proton Event was still in progress, happening 200x the normal background rate in space. March 30th, a major geomagnetic storm began as the CME from Wednesday reached Earth. The major storms continued through the morning. Dramatic aurora could be seen across North America. The IMAGE satellite gives astronomers a picture of the storm.  Dr. Odenwald studies the magnetosphere and how the knowledge we gain from the IMAGE satellite will help understand why the sun affects the environment in space. 

By Saturday, March 31, the story had gained media and newspaper attention. The Pacific Ocean was the area most affected by the electrical currents. Some reports revealed New York experienced power system disturbances. Intense disturbances were felt near the Canada-US border.

Later that Saturday, a major X20-class solar X-ray flare exploded from AR 9393. This was the biggest solar flare to occur since at least 1976 when data was first chronicled. Short-wave radio blackouts occurred on Earth. The event gained major media coverage.

On April 2, 2001, there was a major solar proton event, with fluxes increased nearly 10,000 times their normal background levels. More CME ejected from AR9393 an hour after the solar proton event, traveling at 5 million miles/hour. The occurrence led to reports of two geostationary satellites experiencing pointing problems.

The next day, the Active Region 9415 released an X-class flare. The flare was ten times less powerful than the flux from the day before. On Thursday, April 5th, AR 9393 was gone. It had rotated beyond the west limb of the Sun. The region is so large that is may appear on the east limb as the sun turns. There is a potential for future solar storm episodes.