The new year has started off with a bang, with a powerful solar flare being hurled off the surface of the sun on Tuesday.
NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory and STEREO spacecrafts managed to capture the eruption of a massive X-class flare—the largest type on the Richter scale of solar explosions—as it occurred above a group of sunspots directly facing Earth.
The sunspot group that is the source of the fireworks is called AR1944 and is considered one of the largest sunspot groups seen in the past decade.
“The sprawling active region is more than 200,000 km wide and contains dozens of dark cores. Its primary core, all by itself, is large enough to swallow Earth three times over,” according to the spaceweather.com website.
The solar explosion above the sunspot, which happened Tuesday at approximately 18: 32 GMT (1:32 pm EST), appears to have hurled a giant cloud of charged particles known as a coronal mass ejection (CME) directly toward Earth.
Sky-watchers in both high and mid latitudes around the world may see some colorful sky shows in the form of auroras or northern lights starting in the mid-morning hours GMT (very early morning hours EST) on January 9, when the cloud is expected to slam into our planet’s magnetic field.
NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center says there is an estimated 60 percent chance of a strong geomagnetic storm hitting Earth in the coming days. So keep looking up.