Sun unleashes giant X-flare in outburst that could spark auroras on Mars (video)

Behold the power of the sun!

Our star unleashed an X-flare — the strongest type of solar radiation outburst — at 1:09 p.m. EDT (1709 GMT) on Tuesday (June 20).

Footage of the flare was caught by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, which keeps a constant watch on sun activity alongside other agency satellites and observatories from the European Space Agency, among other entities.

Related: Space weather: What is it and how is it predicted?

NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory captured the newly arrived sunspot AR3341 blasting out a powerful X1.1 solar flare on June 20, 2023.  (Image credit: NASA/SDO)

"Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation," NASA's sun account on Twitter stated. "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."

The flare was associated with a coronal mass ejection (CME), a huge cloud of superheated plasma that the sun blasted into space. The CME was not aimed at Earth and, as such, it will not ramp up any auroral displays here, according to, citing a NASA model. 

But the solar plasma may spark a glowing light show on Mars that will be visible in a few days to orbiters there, such as NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN).

The sun is currently nearing the peak of its 11-year activity cycle, with many sunspots  clustering on the surface. Sunspots — hotbeds of magnetic activity — serve as launch pads for flares and CMES.

Normally, these eruptions are harmless to humanity, causing only light shows. But NASA and other agencies keep an eye on the sun just in case a warning is required to protect essential infrastructure, like power lines or satellites.

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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 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: