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FIRST X-CLASS FLARE OF THE NEW SOLAR CYCLE:

February 16, 2011

Sunspot 1158 has unleashed the strongest solar flare in more than four years. The eruption, which peaked at 0156 UT on Feb. 15th, registered X2 on the Richter scale of solar flares. NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory recorded an intense flash of extreme ultraviolet radiation, circled below:


movie formats: 5 MB gif, 1.3 MB iPad, 0.6 MB iPhone

X-flares are the strongest type of solar flare, and this is the first such eruption of new Solar Cycle 24. In addition to flashing Earth with UV radiation, the explosion also hurled a coronal mass ejection (CME) in our direction. The expanding cloud may be seen in this movie from NASA’s STEREO-B spacecraft. Geomagnetic storms are possible when the CME arrives 36 to 48 hours hence. Stay tuned for updates.

SWEET AURORAS: Last night, as predicted, a gust of solar wind hit Earth’s magnetic field, sparking bright Valentine’s auroras around the Arctic Circle. Øystein Lunde Ingvaldsen sends this picture of the sweet lights over Bø in Vesterålen, Norway:

“It was a short but beautiful blast of Northern Lights,” says Ingvaldsen. “Perhaps this is a preview of things to come later this week.” Indeed, a series of CMEs en route to Earth from exploding sunspot 1158 are expected to arrive on Feb. 15th-17th, prompting bright displays at even lower latitudes. Sky watchers should be alert for auroras.

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