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X-class solar flare erupts from giant sunspot

  • ar-1520-x14-flare new.jpg

    July 12, 2012: An X-1.4 class flare erupted from the center of the sun, peaking at 12:52 PM EDT. It erupted from Active Region 1520 which rotated into view on July 6. (NASA/SDO/AIA)

  • ar-1520-solar-flare-full-disk

    July 12, 2012: An X-1.4 class flare erupted from the center of the sun on Thursday. (NASA/SDO/AIA)

The sun unleashed a huge flare Thursday (July 12), the second major solar storm to erupt from our star in less than a week.

The solar flare peaked at 12:52 p.m. EDT (1652 GMT) as an X-class sun storm, the most powerful type of flare the sun can have.

"It erupted from Active Region 1520, which rotated into view on July 6," NASA officials said in an alert. Active Region 1520, or AR1520, is a giant sunspot currently facing Earth.  

According to NASA and the Space Weather Prediction Center (SPWC), which is operated by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, today's sun storm registered as an X1.4-class solar flare. It is more powerful than the X1.1 flare that erupted on July 6 from another giant sunspot known as AR1515, making this latest tempest the strongest solar storm of the summer so far.

Because the solar flare erupted toward Earth, it may send a wave of charged particles toward our planet that could supercharge northern lights displays.

Radio blackouts for some high-frequency communications systems are possible for about an hour, according to SWPC officials.

X-class solar flares  are the strongest type of storms that occur on the sun. When aimed at Earth, the most powerful X-class flares can endanger satellites and astronauts in space, interfere with navigation and communications signals, and damage power system infrastructure on our planet.

Today's solar flare marks the sixth X-class solar flare of the year. While it is the strongest yet of the summer season, which began in late June, it is not the most powerful sun storm of 2012. That title is currently held by a March event that unleashed an intense X5.4-class solar flare.

The sun is currently in the midst of an active phase of its 11-year solar weather cycle. The current cycle is called Solar Cycle 24 and is expected to peak in 2013.

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