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Mammoth, Earth-swallowing sunspot blasts out X-class flare

Scott Sutherland
Meteorologist/Science Writer

Monday, October 20, 2014, 9:21 PM - Solar astronomers are closely watching an immense sunspot that crept around the eastern limb of the Sun this past weekend, and it's already given us a taste of what it's capable of, after it blasted out a powerful X1.1-class flare on Sunday.

With NASA's STEREO-Behind solar-viewing satellite currently silent, due to some kind of technical problem, the first hint that this massive sunspot was about to show itself was an incredible eruption from the other side of the Sun. The coronal mass ejection blasted out on October 15, aimed towards the opposite end of the solar system, but NASA's Solar Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) easily caught sight of the eruption as it expanded out into space.

Once it revealed itself to us, rotating around onto the Earth-facing side of the Sun, astronomers caught sight of exactly how big the sunspot was, and then watched as it exploded on Sunday.

CLICK BELOW TO WATCH: The X1.1-class flare from different wavelengths, showing off the amazing variety of activity sparked by the eruption.

According to Spaceweather.com, with this sunspot crackling with energy as it continues to rotate in our direction, NOAA forecasters estimate a 60 per cent chance of M-class flares and a 20 per cent chance of seeing powerful X-class flares from this region over the next 24-hours. 

Although solar flares and coronal mass ejections aren't harmful to us here on Earth's surface, the strongest of them (X-class) and even combinations of moderate strength (M-class) can be hazardous to our technologies, both in space and here on Earth. Especially powerful ones can cause geomagnetic storms that can disrupt orbiting satellites and produce surges of electricity in power lines that can result in lengthy blackouts.

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