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Amazing Images Of The Sun Releasing Massive Solar Flares
May 16, 2013
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If you haven't seen these images from NASA, they're absolutely extraordinary.

They're shots of the Sun over the past couple of days releasing huge solar flares and coronal mass ejections, or CMEs.

The flares were designated "X-Class", which is the strongest type and mind-blowingly powerful.

"These are spectacular events, an X-class flare is equivalent to a billion hydrogen bombs. We're talking about a colossal amount of energy," said Dr. Robert Massey, from the UK's Royal Astronomical Society.

"The good news is that although these can cause problems - at worst - with power supplies and so on, there's really no threat to us living on the ground," he told the BBC.

So, what exactly is a solar flare?

Well, according to NASA's Phil Chamberlin, it is "a huge release of energy that converts magnetic energy of the sun into heat and into light. It accelerates particles and can heat up plasma to over 60 million Kelvin, in minutes."

Or to put it another way, it's a sudden release of radiation.

In fact, if the flares are powerful enough, they can send billions of tonnes of charged gas and other particles into space. If an eruption that strong reaches Earth, it could blow out power grids and disrupt satellites.

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A false-color composite image in extreme ultraviolet light from the Solar Dynamics Observatory captures the moment, recorded on April 11

Often, as The Independent points out, solar flares are followed by Coronal Mass Ejections, which can accelerate to a few million kilometres per hour.

According to reports, one of the most recent CMEs left the sun at an amazing 2,200 kilometres (1,400 miles) per second.

You'll be relieved to know they weren't travelling toward Earth, but according to reports, they could pass by a few of NASA's spacecraft.

The operators of those missions can put the crafts into a "safe mode" to protect the electronics onboard from being zapped.

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Also, flares cannot physically affect people - though they can disturb the atmosphere in the layer were GPS and communications signals travel.

Radio blackouts associated with these flares have subsided. NASA has also released a video showing much of the activity.

Scientists expect to see more flares right now because this year the Sun is experiencing "hot flashes", if you will - a period known as solar maximum.

It's an event that happens about every 11 years.

NASA says solar flares are predictable and it can track them and prepare for them, in the same way forecasters can track a hurricane.

Officials warn airlines, electrical companies and spacecraft operators about incoming flares and CMEs, so they can be ready for any powerful bursts of energy.

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