Solar maximum may be starting to wane, but the sun has no intention on slipping into the stellar doldrums quietly. At 7:50 p.m. EST on Monday (00:50 UTC, Feb. 25), a sunspot emerging from the southeastern limb of our nearest star unleashed its magnetic fury, exploding with an X5-class flare.
X-class solar flares are the most powerful classification of flare and, if pointing toward Earth, can cause radiation storms and impact our planet's upper atmosphere, interfering with satellites and global communications. In this case, however, the flare erupted perpendicular to the direction of Earth, so its impact will be minimal. But it did give space observatories quite a fireworks display.
PHOTOS: Simmering Solar Views from SDO
In the sequence of images above from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, the fairly quiescent sun suddenly erupts with a flash, leaving a magnetic tangle in its wake. The loops of magnetism and superheated plasma extend from the solar surface reaching high into the multimillion degree solar atmosphere (known as the corona). It is this region where space weather is spawned, generating rapid flows of charged particles (known as the solar wind), crackling with solar flares and sometimes blasting coronal mass ejections (CMEs) into interplanetary space.