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Solar Flare Erupts From Sun, Three CMEs Headed Toward Earth

Oct 24, 2013 03:15 PM EDT
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M9.4 class solar flare
NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory recorded the peak of a mid-level solar flare erupting from the Sun on Wednesday night at 8:30 pm EDT.

(Photo : NASA/SDO)

UPDATE: The Sun unleashed two X-class solar flares Friday, click here to read more.  

NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory recorded the peak of a mid-level solar flare erupting from the Sun on Wednesday night.

Solar flares are powerful bursts of solar radiation. When NASA instruments observe them using wavelengths beyond the visible spectrum, the results include stunning photographs like the one above, which displays light at a wavelength of 131 Angstroms, which is good for viewing the intense heat of a solar flare, and also the reason for the teal color.

The flare was classified as level M9.4; M-class flares, a weaker class of solar flare, are graded between M1.0 and M9.9. This rating places Wednesday's flare near the top of the M-class category, which are the the weakest type of solar flare that can cause some space weather effects near Earth.

X-class solar flares, which are a level above M-class, are the most intense category of solar flares.

In May the Sun let out four X-class solar flares within a week's time, including three in a 24-hour period, one of which, a class X3.2, was the strongest of the year.

Coronal mass ejections, or CMEs, are related to but different from solar flares, which tend to be localized. CMEs are much larger events, sometimes erupting plumes of radiation larger than the Sun itself.

This week three CMEs were observed leaving the Sun on an Earth-bound course, SpaceWeather.com reported, adding that the trio of CMEs should hit Earth Thursday or Friday. Their combined impact could trigger a mid-polar geomagnetic storm on Earth, which could cause some radio and satellite signals to malfunction, but will more likely just result in some impressive aurora borealis.

UPDATE: The Sun unleashed two X-class solar flares Friday, click here to read more.   

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