Sun Unleashes Intense Solar Flare as NASA Watches (Video)

Solar Flare of March 12, 2014 in Colors
A solar flare erupts from the sun on March 12, 2014. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured it in several wavelengths of light, shown here in different colors. (Image credit: NASA/SDO/Goddard Space Flight Center)

A stunning solar flare erupted from the sun Wednesday (March 12) and just narrowly missed becoming one of the strongest types of sun storms possible, NASA scientists say.

The sun fired off the mid-level solar flare occurred at 6:38 p.m. EDT (2238 GMT) from magnetically charged region of the sun's surface that scientists call called AR 11996. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured a dazzling video of the solar flare, which ranked as a M9.3-class solar storm.

A solar flare erupts from the sun on March 12, 2014. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured it in several wavelengths of light, shown here in different colors. (Image credit: NASA/SDO/Goddard Space Flight Center)

"This flare is classified as an M9.3 flare, just slightly weaker than the most intense flares, which are labeled X-class," NASA's Karen Fox of the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., explained in a statement.

NASA and space weather forecasters are now watching the stream of solar particles associated with it to see if they will intersect with Earth's atmosphere to amplify northern lights displays at the poles.

A solar flare erupts on the far right side of the sun March 12, 2014. (Image credit: NASA/SDO/Goddard Space Flight Center)

With the sun at a peak of an 11-year cycle of activity, several bright shows have happened in recent months. NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center will have regular updates on solar activity in the next few days.

At their most intense, X-class solar flares can disrupt satellite communications and even power networks. Twenty-five years ago this month, for example, a solar storm knocked out much of the power in Quebec, Canada for days.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for Space.com for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace