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Sun fires off huge solar flare from new sunspot coming into view

The active sun fired off a powerful X-class flare, the strongest our star experiences, on Tuesday (May 3), but not in the direction of Earth.

The solar flare peaked at 9:25 a.m. EDT (1325 GMT) and was caught in footage from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, the agency tweeted. No specific guidance about the effects on Earth was discussed, but it is unlikely that auroras will be amplified as this event took place on the lower left limb of the sun.

The flare registered as an X1.1-class solar flare, the second such storm in a week from the sun. A different active region on the sun, which has since turned away from Earth, unleashed an X1.1-class flare on April 30. X-class flares are the most powerful explosions on the sun.

"Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation," NASA tweeted (opens in new tab) of the event. "Harmful radiation from a flare cannot pass through Earth’s atmosphere to physically affect humans on the ground, however — when intense enough — they can disturb the atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communications signals travel."

Related: The sun's wrath: Worst solar storms in history

NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured the solar flare May 3, 2022, which is visible at lower left. (Image credit: NASA/SDO)

The sunspot from which the flare emerged has not yet been named. "The source is a new unnumbered sunspot emerging over the sun's southeastern limb," SpaceWeather.com (opens in new tab) said.

Auroras may be amplified after a solar flare when charged particles from a coronal mass ejection erupt from then sun reach the Earth and interact with its upper atmosphere. Providing Earth is in the direction of the outburst, those particles move across our planet's magnetic field lines and excite molecules high in the atmosphere, creating colorful lights.

The sun was active all through April, displaying huge groups of sunspots while firing off flares ranging from moderate-sized to the largest X-class sized. The sun appears to be waking up as it moves towards its forecasted peak of solar activity in 2025.

NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are the American government agencies constantly monitoring the sun for its solar weather, to determine effects on Earth and in other places in the solar system. A close-up NASA mission called the Parker Solar Probe is seeking to understand more about the corona, which is the superheated outer atmosphere of the sun.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. As a proud Trekkie and Canadian, she also tackles topics like diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to help others explore the universe. Elizabeth's on-site reporting includes two human spaceflight launches from Kazakhstan, three space shuttle missions in Florida, and embedded reporting from a simulated Mars mission in Utah. She holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, and a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Her latest book, Leadership Moments from NASA, is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday.