Yesterday, the sun reminded us that although the current peak of its solar cycle has been a little sub-par, it is still capable of mustering the magnetic energy to erupt with its most powerful class of solar flare. What's more, it was aiming its sights right at us, prompting a space weather alert.
PHOTOS: Simmering Solar Views from SDO
Solar flares occur deep within the sun's atmosphere, a region known as the lower corona. This magnetically dominated region is threaded with strong magnetic fields. The region is currently alive with magnetic activity, field lines popping through the sun's surface from its interior, filled with superheated solar plasma -- beautiful features known as coronal loops.
In some active regions that are often accompanied by highly contrasting dark spots, or sunspots, the conditions can be ripe for magnetic reconnection events. These events can be explosive, and when they occur can unleash vast quantities of energy.
As solar astronomers watched an ominous black patch of sunspot activity (in an active region called AR 1944) rotate toward us over the past few days, there was always a chance that the fizzing region of magnetic instability was going to blow. And blow it did.