The sun has unleashed the biggest solar flare of the year, quickly followed by an Earth-directed coronal mass ejection (CME). Both phenomena have the potential to impact communications and electronics on Earth and in orbit.
Although the sun is currently experiencing "solar maximum" - the culmination of its approximate 11-year cycle - scientists have noted that this particular maximum is a lot quieter than predicted. At this time, the sun should be bubbling with violent active regions, exhibiting sunspots, popping off flares and ejecting CMEs. But so far, the sun seems to be taking it relatively easy.
That was before today, however.
PHOTOS: Ten Mind-Blowing Solar Views from the SDO
This morning (at 0716 UT), active region (AR) 1719 erupted with an M-class flare. With a rating of M6.5, this event is the most energetic flare of 2013 (although it's a lot less impressive than 2012′s X-class fireworks). What's more, the site of the explosion unleashed a CME in our direction.
A CME is a magnetic ‘bubble' containing high-energy solar particles. When the CME hits Earth's global magnetic field, it may align just right to generate a geomagnetic storm. Should this happen, we'll be able to measure the extreme magnetic distortion of the magnetosphere and bright aurorae at high latitudes may result. Aurorae are caused when solar particles are injected into the polar regions via the Earth's magnetic field - the particles then collide with atmospheric gases, generating a beautiful light display.