Giant Sunspot Unleashes 2 More Powerful Solar Flares

An active, sun-spotted region of the sun that unleashed powerful solar flares earlier this week fired two more significant solar flares this morning. 

As a result, radiation flowing from the sun's surface may bring brilliant auroras and strong geomagnetic storms to Earth through Saturday (Sept. 9), according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC).

The first flare peaked at 6:15 a.m. EDT (1015 GMT) and is classified as an M7.3, or a midlevel flare. At 10:36 a.m. (1436 GMT), a second and more powerful X1.3 solar flare was observed. X-class solar flares are the most intense. [In Photos: The Sun's Monster X9.3 Solar Flare of Sept. 6, 2017]

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Solar flares are bright flashes of radiation that come from magnetically active regions on the surface of the sun. When the sun's magnetic fields get twisted and tangled, they can send enormous bursts of energy speeding toward Earth in a matter of minutes. Particularly intense magnetic storms on the sun's surface can send huge clouds of plasma called coronal mass ejections (CMEs), which take up to three days to reach Earth. 

After astronomers spotted two powerful solar flares Wednesday morning (Sept. 6), NASA's Solar Heliospheric Observatory detected a CME emerging from one of two massive sunspots, named active region 2673. It is not yet clear if that CME will hit Earth directly. 

However, another CME that erupted Monday (Sept. 4) made its way to Earth in about two days, the SWPC reports. That CME was expected to supercharge aurorasWednesday night, but the aurora forecast is looking good for the next few days with this wave of solar activity.

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This morning (Sept. 7), the SWPC issued a new G3 (strong) geomagnetic storm watch "in anticipation of the arrival of another CME associated with the X9.3 flare" seen on Wednesday. That watch remains in effect through Saturday. 

In addition to beautiful auroras, the geomagnetic storm could disrupt communications, as well as damage satellites and power grids. Wednesday's X9.3 flare already caused a strong radio blackout

Editor's note: If you snap a photo of the northern lights and you'd like to share it for a possible story or image gallery, please send images and comments to at

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Hanneke Weitering
Contributing expert

Hanneke Weitering is a multimedia journalist in the Pacific Northwest reporting on the future of aviation at and Aviation International News and was previously the Editor for Spaceflight and Astronomy news here at As an editor with over 10 years of experience in science journalism she has previously written for Scholastic Classroom Magazines, MedPage Today and The Joint Institute for Computational Sciences at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. After studying physics at the University of Tennessee in her hometown of Knoxville, she earned her graduate degree in Science, Health and Environmental Reporting (SHERP) from New York University. Hanneke joined the team in 2016 as a staff writer and producer, covering topics including spaceflight and astronomy. She currently lives in Seattle, home of the Space Needle, with her cat and two snakes. In her spare time, Hanneke enjoys exploring the Rocky Mountains, basking in nature and looking for dark skies to gaze at the cosmos.