Sun Launches Massive Solar Flares Towards Earth

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A set of sunspots just a week old is making some serious waves.

An area on the surface of the sun called Active Region 1158 sent repeated solar flares at Earth over the past few days. The British Geological Survey has more. (Video source: SDO / BBC News)

"Since 13th February three energetic solar flares have erupted on the Sun and spewed clouds of charged plasma called coronal mass ejections (CMEs) out towards the Earth. The biggest of the three flares ... is the largest in over four years."

Astronomers rate solar flares by their intensity, "C" being smallest class, "M" being larger, and "X" being the largest class.

The most recent was an X flare. This video from shows the sunspots that produced the flares growing over the past few days. The site says the sunspot is now wider than the planet Jupiter.

The sunspot activity is one more sign that the Sun is waking up from a slump in its 11-year cycle. A NASA researcher tells we should expect plenty more flares in the near future.

"It just means that Solar Cycle 24 is ramping up! ... This is the first of probably many more X-class flare to occur over the next 2 to 4 years as we reach the peak and then descend back down from solar cycle 24 maximum."

So what does it mean when the Sun spits millions of tons of matter at us? Well, thanks to our atmosphere and magnetic field, not much. Discover Magazine's Phil Plait explains what the solar flares mean to skygazers.

"While this was a stronger flare — it was an X2 class, making it about 3 times more powerful than the flare from the other day — again, we're in no real danger from it. But if you live in the extreme north or south you should watch for aurorae over the next couple of nights!"

If you'd like to learn more about the equipment NASA uses to spy on our local star, check out this recent Newsy video. And if solar flares and sunspots leave stars in your eyes, be sure to let us know in our comments section.

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