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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. 

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Still, the massive sunspot region shows no signs of quieting down, and earlier today, NASA scientists said that it also appears to be growing.

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"Sunspot AR1429 keeps getting bigger! It's more than 7 times the width of Earth," scientists with NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory said via Twitter.

With this sunspot region now facing Earth, at the central meridian of the solar disk, strong solar eruptions have the potential to wreak havoc on the planet. Big coronal mass ejections that hit Earth head-on can potentially knock out power grids and disrupt other electronics infrastructure. Strong solar storms can also disrupt satellites in space and pose radiation risks for astronauts aboard the International Space Station.

This week's solar storm increased levels of solar radiation and caused geomagnetic storms on Earth, but the effects were milder than expected. As a precaution, commercial airliners re-routed flights over Earth's polar caps, but no other major disruptions were reported, Rutledge said.

Solar storms can also amp up displays of the northern and southern lights, enabling people to see them farther south than normal. Yesterday, skywatchers reported seeing auroras from states such as Wisconsin, Michigan and Washington, Rutledge said.

But without any additional eruptions from the sun, and as this week's solar storm begins to taper off, the supercharged aurora displays will begin to decrease around the globe, he added.

The sun appears to be coming out of an extended lull in activity in its 11-year cycle. The current cycle is known as Solar Cycle 24 and solar activity is expected to ramp up toward its peak in 2013, NASA officials have said.

You can follow SPACE.com staff writer Denise Chow on Twitter @denisechow. Follow SPACE.com for the latest in space science and exploration news on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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