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Holiday Lights on the Sun: Stunning Solar Flare

Dec 22, 2014 03:30 PM EST

Despite the "Silent Night" being a mere two days away, on Christmas Eve, all is not calm in space. Our Sun appears to be breaking out its own last-minute holiday lights for the season, erupting in a massive set of solar activity that began just last Friday.

NASA is calling the activity in question "significant," peaking to a stunning X1.8-class flare around 7:28 EST last Friday night.

"Harmful radiation from a flare cannot pass through Earth's atmosphere to physically affect humans on the ground, however - when intense enough - they can disturb the atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communications signals travel," the space agency reported.

And while beautiful, this "holiday flare" is one such potential harmful wave of solar activity.

X-class solar flares are the most intense solar flares, while that 1.8 denotes that this specific flare is somewhere between the "small" and "medium" of its class.

An X3 flare, for instance, would be three times as intense as an X1 class solar flare, and an X1 flare would be significantly stronger than any M-class flare - the stage of flare known to cause small to medium radio blackouts and moderate radiation storms.

Harmful flares can also serve up strong geomagnetic disruption, which occurs when solar winds press on Earth's magnetosphere. Not only can this cause auroras as far as over North America, but it can also disrupt magnetic navigation and even energize ground induced currents (GICs) - which can disrupt power distribution through underground cables.

Thankfully, this most recent flare, while both beautiful and intense, has not sent a strong geomagnetic storm our way.

The NOAA reported zero geomagnetic storm activity over the weekend, and only minor activity (G1) as of Monday. This means that we can enjoy the stunning imagery of this solar activity, taken recently by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, without worry that these space lights will be shutting down our own holiday displays.

[Cedit: NASA/SDO]

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