Sun Unleashes Intense Solar Flare as NASA Watches (Video)

by Elizabeth Howell, SPACE.com Contributor
SPACE.com
Sun Unleashes Intense Solar Flare as NASA Watches (Video)
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A solar flare erupts from the sun on March 12, 2014. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured it in several wavelengths of light, shown here in different colors.

A stunning solar flare erupted from the sun Wednesday (March 12) and just narrowly missed becoming one of the strongest types of sun storms possible, NASA scientists say.

The sun fired off the mid-level solar flare occurred at 6:38 p.m. EDT (2238 GMT) from magnetically charged region of the sun's surface that scientists call called AR 11996. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured a dazzling video of the solar flare, which ranked as a M9.3-class solar storm.

"This flare is classified as an M9.3 flare, just slightly weaker than the most intense flares, which are labeled X-class," NASA's Karen Fox of the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., explained in a statement.

NASA and space weather forecasters are now watching the stream of solar particles associated with it to see if they will intersect with Earth's atmosphere to amplify northern lights displays at the poles.

With the sun at a peak of an 11-year cycle of activity, several bright shows have happened in recent months. NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center will have regular updates on solar activity in the next few days.

At their most intense, X-class solar flares can disrupt satellite communications and even power networks. Twenty-five years ago this month, for example, a solar storm knocked out much of the power in Quebec, Canada for days.

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