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Sun continues to spew

The sun continues its active streak this week, spitting out yet another solar flare from the same region that produced two powerful eruptions this week. 

By Denise ChowSPACE.com / March 9, 2012

Skywatcher Kenneth Farmer took this photo of the sun showing AR1429 sunspot region on Wednesday. He says: "I live in San Francisco and took this photo yesterday through a telescope (with a solar filter) of the AR1429 sunspot region. This is the area that generated the massive solar flare."

Kenneth Farmer

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The sun is continuing its active streak this week, firing off another solar flare late Thursday (March 8) from the same region that produced this week's strong solar storm.

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An M6.3-class solar flare — a mid-range eruption — spewed from the surface of the sun last night at 10:53 p.m. EST (0353 GMT March 9), according to an alert from the Space Weather Prediction Center, a joint operation by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Weather Service.

Space weather scientists use five categories — A, B, C, M and X — to rank solar flares based on their strength and severity. A-class flares are the weakest types of sun storms, while X-class eruptions are the most powerful.

The M-class solar flare exploded from the same sunspot region, called AR1429, which has been particularly active all week. This dynamic region has already unleashed three strong X-class solar flares. On Tuesday (March 6), two powerful X-class eruptions triggered the strongest solar storm in eight years, Bob Rutledge, head of NOAA's Space Weather Forecast Office, told reporters today (March 9).

"When you take overall intensity and length — how long it persisted — we're confident in saying by some measures, it was the strongest storm we've seen since November 2004," Rutledge said. "That doesn't mean that between November 2004 and today we haven't had brief periods that were more intense. If you look at the storm overall for length and strength, it was the strongest storm since November 2004." [Photos: Solar Flare Eruptions of 2012]

A fast-moving cloud of solar plasma and charged particles, called a coronal mass ejection, was triggered by the Tuesday X-class eruptions, and this wave of energetic particles hit Earth yesterday. The resulting geomagnetic storm was weaker than expected, but solar physicists say there is a potential for conditions to escalate.

"We still have about a 40 percent chance of seeing another X flare," Rutledge said. "We still think it's fairly likely to see one later today, tomorrow or the next day. We're watching this region closely."

A coronal mass ejection from last night's flare is also approaching Earth, and while this one is expected to hit Earth directly on Sunday (March 11), experts at the Space Weather Prediction Center are not anticipating the effects to be very severe.

"[It] could cause storming levels that could reach the G3 (strong) level again, but we don't believe it will have quite the sustained intensity," Rutledge said.

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