A NASA satellite charged with staring at the sun captured an incredible view of a powerful solar flare on Thursday (Oct. 2).
The space agency's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) caught sight of the flare as it erupted from an active region on the right side of the sun, according to NASA. The spacecraft' spectacular videos of the solar flare, as well as still images, show the sun storm erupting from the sunspot AR2172-AR2173.
The flare reached its peak at 3:01 p.m. EDT (1901 GMT) on Tuesday. While the M7.3-class flare did cause a coronal mass ejection — an explosion of super-hot solar plasma — the eruption was not directed at Earth, and should not pose a concern for satellites in orbit or the planet as a whole, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Space Weather Prediction Office. [See amazing pictures of 2014's solar flares]
M-class flares are about one-tenth as powerful as the strongest solar flares, which are known as X-class flares.
"Harmful radiation from a flare cannot pass through Earth's atmosphere to physically affect humans on the ground. However, when intense enough, they can disturb the atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communications signals travel," NASA Goddard Space Flight Center spokeswoman Karen Fox wrote in a statement.
The sun has unleashed a series of X-class flares this year. In early September, the star fired off two large flares in rapid succession.
Those solar storms — which were pointed toward Earth — created some amazing aurora displays. Powerful solar tempests can supercharge Earth's auroras, causing curtains of green light to dance in the skies of the high northern and southern latitudes.
The northern lights are created when charged particles from the sun interact with Earth's upper atmosphere, bombarding neutral particles and creating the lights of the auroras.
Currently, the sun is at the peak of its 11-year solar cycle, called Solar Cycle 24. While the giant star has burst forth with some large flares during this peak, this solar cycle might still qualify as one of the calmest in close to 100 years, scientists have said.
NASA's SDO is part of a fleet of satellites that monitors the sun. The agency's twin STEREO probes and the SOHO spacecraft (a joint venture between NASA and the European Space Agency) also keep track of the sun's weather.
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