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Sun Unfurls Most Powerful Solar Flare of the Year and 4 Million Mph Coronal Mass Ejection

Feb 25, 2014 11:10 AM EST
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The Sun unleashed its largest solar flare of the year and one of the most powerful of the current solar cycle early Tuesday morning.

The X4.9-class solar flare was reported by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) at 00:49 GMT on Tuesday, Feb. 25 (7:49 p.m. Monday, Feb. 24 EST). The event, which the SDO said occurred in sunspot region AR 11990, lasted 22 minutes.

Spaceweather.com reported that the impressive solar flare erupted from the Sun's southeastern limb and was not facing Earth.

Solar fares are powerful bursts of radiation. Although they cannot pass through the Earth's atmosphere and harm humans on the ground, the radiation can disturb GPS systems and other radio equipment.

The power of Tuesday's X4.9-class solar flare was significant and surpassed all X-class flares in recent memory. The largest solar flare of 2013 was rated X3.3. The strongest solar flare in this 11-year solar cycle, which started in February 2011, was an X6.9 that occurred in August 2011.

There are several classes of solar flares, but M-class and X-class are most noteworthy because they can cause geomagnetic storms on Earth. M-class flares are the weakest type of solar flare that can cause some space weather effects near Earth, while X-class flares are the most powerful class of solar flare.

The numbers following the flare's letter class provide more information about the flare's strength. An X2 flare, for instance, is twice as strong as an X1.

A high-speed coronal mass ejection (CME) occurred shortly after Tuesday's solar flare, Spaceweather.com reported. Bursting out of the Sun at a blazing velocity of 4.4 million mph (nearly 2,000 kilometers per second), a CME of such speeds could cause severe damage to satellites and electrical equipment on Earth, but it appears that the the CME will not strike Earth.

"Because its trajectory is so far off the sun-Earth line, the CME will deliver a glancing blow, at best, and probably no blow at all," Spaceweather.com reported.

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