PUBLISHED: 13:59 GMT, 12 April 2013 | UPDATED: 17:47 GMT, 12 April 2013
Nasa has released these stunning images of the Sun which show the biggest solar flare of the year.
The huge eruption on April 11th caused a temporary radio blackout on Earth, officials say.
However, they warn the worst is yet to come – with this year expected to see the sun reach its 11 year solar maximum.
Nasa's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured this image of an M6.5 class flare at 3:16 EDT on April 11, 2013. The huge eruption on April 11th caused a temporary radio blackout on Earth, and is the biggest of the year so far, officials say
NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured this image of the flare. This image shows a combination of light in wavelengths of 131 and 171 Angstroms.
WHAT IS A SOLAR FLARE?
Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation.
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.
This disrupts the radio signals for as long as the flare is ongoing, anywhere from minutes to hours.
The solar flare occurred at 3:16 a.m. EDT (0716 GMT) and registered as a M6.5-class sun storm, a relatively mid-level flare on the scale of solar tempests.
It coincided with an eruption of super-hot solar plasma known as a coronal mass ejection.
'This is the strongest flare seen so far in 2013," NASA spokeswoman Karen Fox explained in a statement.
'Increased numbers of flares are quite common at the moment, since the sun's normal 11-year cycle is ramping up toward solar maximum, which is expected in late 2013.'
Humans have tracked this solar cycle continuously since it was discovered, and it is normal for there to be many flares a day during the sun's peak activity, Nasa said.
Officials dubbed today's solar flare as a 'spring fling' for the sun, which has been relatively calm as it heads into its peak activity period.
The M6.5 flare on the morning of April 11, 2013, was also associated with an Earth-directed coronal mass ejection (CME), another solar phenomenon that can send billions of tons of solar particles into space and can reach Earth one to three days later.
The joint ESA/NASA Solar Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) captured this series of images of the coronal mass ejection (CME) on the morning of April 11, 2013 over the course of 3:48 EDT to 4:36 EDT. Mars can be seen on the left.
CMEs can affect electronic systems in satellites and on the ground. Experimental NASA research models show that the CME began at 3:36 a.m. EDT on April 11, leaving the sun at over 600 miles per second.
The M-class solar flare was about 10 times weaker than X-class flares, which are the strongest flares the sun can unleash.
M-class solar flares are the weakest solar events that can still trigger space weather effects near Earth, such as communications interruptions or spectacular northern lights displays.
The solar flare triggered a short-lived radio communications blackout on Earth that registered as an R2 event (on a scale of R1 to R5), according to space weather scales.
When aimed directly at Earth, major solar flares and coronal mass ejections can pose a threat to astronauts and satellites in orbit.
They can interfere with GPS navigation and communications satellite signals in space, as well as impair power systems infrastructure on Earth.
SOHO also captured this coronagraphic (a telescopic attachment designed to block out the direct light from a star so that nearby objects can be seen) image of the CME as it moves