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A solar flare captured in Spain since 1886

The third known solar flare seen in history

On 10 September 1886, a young fan of astrology aged just 17, observed from Madrid with his modest telescope one of these flares leaving the stain on the sun. He wrote down what he saw, and published a drawing showing the data in a French scientific magazine, according to current scientists at the Canaries Astrophysics Institute and the Extremadura University.

The 1886 drawing

‘In the eastern region of the solar southern hemisphere yesterday and today appeared an enormous and beautiful stain and above it an extraordinary phenomenon in the shadow, to the west of the nucleus, discovered a brightly shining almost circular white spot, which was emitted a large solar flare’

With these words described Juan Valderrama y Aguilar, a 17-year-old fan of astronomy, living in Madrid with his small telescope of only 6.6cms of aperture and equipped with a neutral filter to darken the light.

‘The case of Valderrama is singular, being at the time the only person in the world to observe more than a century ago this relatively rare phenomenon, a white solar flare, which nobody else had noticed’ explained José Manuel Vaquero, professor at Extremadura University and co-author of an article on that happening which is published now in Solar Physics.

The solar flare is a rapid increase in light in the region of the Sun’s atmosphere. At the extremes (chromosphere and corona) when the magnetic field changes and releases energy, which can be detected in diverse bands of the electromagnetic spectrum, such as visible or ultraviolet light, but most commonly in X rays.

This month they have observed several of these large solar flares, some showing an exit of corona mass, which in turn produce geomagnetic storms which have on occasions affected the communication systems established by man, radio and GPS mostly.

‘These ‘white-light flares’ correspond to the most extreme cases of the natural phenomenon, where the energy is so high it prolongs into the photosphere, heats up and produces a massive amount of energy as bright white light, hence the name’ explained the other co-author Jorge Sánchez Almedia from the Canaries Astrophysics Institute.

The two previous sightings of these solar flares was registered by a British astronomer, Richard C. Carrington on 1 September 1859 and then the Italian Pietro Angelo Secchi on 13 November 1872, and then debate ensued over whether these solar flares have any effect on earth.