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Massive solar flare targets earth

Updated: 01/09/2014 @ 5:02pm

The effects of one of the most massive sunspots in recent years is heading toward Earth and could trigger radio blackouts and affect certain electronic equipment such as GPS guidance systems.

That sunspot, labeled AR1944, produced M7- and X1-class solar flares. There are three categories of solar flares.

  • X-class flares are major events that can trigger planet-wide radio blackouts and long-lasting radiation storms.

  • M-class flares are medium-size and can cause brief radio blackouts that affect Earth's polar regions. Minor radiation storms sometimes follow an M-class flare.

  • C-class flares eruptions, reports SpaceWeather.com (of NASA).

AR1944 erupted Monday at approximately 6:32 p.m., producing a powerful X1-class solar flare. A solar flare is an explosion on the sun that happens when energy stored in twisted magnetic fields (usually above sunspots) is suddenly released. Flares produce a burst of radiation across the electromagnetic spectrum, from radio waves to x-rays and gamma-rays.

First-look coronagraph images from the STEREO-Ahead spacecraft appear to show a coronal mass ejection (CME) emerging from the blast site (see image).

You can tap into the latest updates on this major solar eruption by going to spaceweather.com.

Editor's note about the above photo: Rocky Raybell photographed the active region named "AR1944" Monday from his backyard in Keller, Washington, posting the image at http://spaceweather.com/.

The solar eruption can be seen in the dark spots located right above the center tree. The sprawling complex of sunspots contains dozens of dark cores, the largest of which could swallow Earth three times over.

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