A recent solar blast may ramp up northern lights displays this Friday, giving well-placed skywatchers a treat, NASA officials say.

The sun unleashed a huge cloud of superheated plasma Tuesday morning (March 12) in a solar eruption known as a coronal mass ejection (CME). This cloud is not headed straight for Earth, but it could deliver a glancing blow to our planet on Friday (March 15), researchers said.

"There is now a 65% chance of geomagnetic activity on March 15 due to this event," officials wrote Wednesday (March 13) on the Facebook page of NASA's sun-watching Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft. "High latitude watchers — [get] ready for possible Aurorae."

The eruption originated from a sunspot known as Active Region 1690, which at the time was centered on the Earth-facing side of the sun, they added. NASA also released a video of the solar eruption as seen by the Solar Dynamics Observatory.

Powerful CMEs that hit Earth directly can wreak havoc on our planet, triggering geomagnetic storms that can disrupt radio communications, GPS signals and power grids for days at a time. But Tuesday's eruption is not expected to affect Earth beyond possibly sparking some souped-up aurora displays.

Many of us take the sun for granted, giving it little thought until it scorches our skin or gets in our eyes. But our star is a fascinating and complex object, a gigantic fusion reactor that gives us life. How much do you know about the sun?
This image, captured by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) on March 10, 2012, shows an active region on the sun, seen as the bright spot to the right. Designated AR 1429, the spot has so far produced three X-class flares and numerous M-class flares.
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Solar Quiz: How Well Do You Know Our Sun?
Many of us take the sun for granted, giving it little thought until it scorches our skin or gets in our eyes. But our star is a fascinating and complex object, a gigantic fusion reactor that gives us life. How much do you know about the sun?
This image, captured by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) on March 10, 2012, shows an active region on the sun, seen as the bright spot to the right. Designated AR 1429, the spot has so far produced three X-class flares and numerous M-class flares.
0 of questions complete

The auroras, which are also known as the northern and southern lights, result when charged particles from the sun collide with molecules high in Earth's atmosphere, generating a glow. The phenomenon is usually restricted to high latitutes because Earth's magnetic field lines tend to funnel these particles over the planet's poles.

Tuesday's eruption notwithstanding, the sun has been pretty quiet recently. That's something of a surprise, because many scientists had predicted that the sun's current 11-year activity cycle — known as Solar Cycle 24 — would peak in 2013.

The lull has spurred some researchers to postulate that Solar Cycle 24 may actually have a double peak — one occurring in 2011, which saw many powerful sun storms, and another coming soon after the sun rouses from its mini-slumber.

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