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Current Page: World | Wednesday, August 10, 2011
Massive Solar Flare Unleashed by Sun: Largest in 4 Years

Massive Solar Flare Unleashed by Sun: Largest in 4 Years

A huge solar flare was unleashed by the sun early Tuesday which was the most powerful in more than four years, according to scientists.

“It was a big flare,” said Joe Kunches to MSNBC, a space scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s Space Weather Prediction Center. “We lucked out because the site of the eruption at the sun was not facing the Earth, so we will probably feel no ill effects.”

The flared started at 3:48 a.m. ET.

It was rated a class X6.9 on the three class scale scientists use to measure the strength of solar flares.

Class X solar flares are the strongest type, while class C is the weakest and class M is medium strength.

The recent flare is part of the sun’s current cycle which began in 2008 and is expected to end around 2020 and is the largest solar flare recorded in the cycle thus far.

“This flare had a GOES X-ray magnitude of X6.9, meaning it was more than three times larger than the previous largest flare of this solar cycle – the X2.2 that occurred on Feb 15, 2011,” scientists with NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, a space observatory that monitors the sun, wrote in an update.

Before the Feb. 15 flare, the previous largest was recorded in December 2006, over four years ago, when as X9-class storm erupted from the sun.

Solar Flares are the result of magnetic field lines on the sun getting tangled up into knots, building up potential energy. Once it reaches a tipping point the energy is converted into heat, light and the motion of charged particles.

X class solar eruptions are the largest and the biggest threat to the Earth, but only when they are aimed directly at the planet.

During an eruption the sun releases a cloud of plasma called a coronal mass ejection (CME) into space which can damage satellites, endanger astronauts in orbit and interfere with power systems by hurling charged particles at them.

Tuesday’s solar flare was not aimed at Earth.

“Because of its position the CME is going to shoot out into space and not be Earth-directed, and we don’t expect any big geomagnetic storm with this,” Kunches told Space.com. “We did luck out. If this would have happened a week ago, who knows?”

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