NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured this image of an M6.5 class flare on April 11, 2013.
NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured this image of an M6.5 class flare on April 11, 2013. NASA/SDO

Strongest solar flare seen this year captured by NASA

THE sun has produced its largest solar flare of the year - a magnitude M6.5 flare.

NASA said in a statement the mid-level flare peaked at 3.16am EDT (5.15pm AUS) yesterday.

"This flare is classified as an M6.5 flare, some ten times less powerful than the strongest flares, which are labelled X-class flares," wrote Karen Fox, of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

"M-class flares are the weakest flares that can still cause some space weather effects near Earth.

This flare produced a radio blackout that has since subsided.

The blackout was categorized as an R2 on a scale between R1 and R5 on NOAA's space weather scales.

NASA said it was the strongest flare seen so far this year.

"Increased numbers of flares are quite common at the moment, since the sun's normal 11-year activity 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 the flare was associated with an Earth-directed coronal mass ejection (CME), which can send billions of tonnes of solar particles into space and can reach Earth one to three days later.

The CME began at 3.36am EDT (5.36pm AUS), leaving the sun at over 600 miles per second.

CMEs can affect electronic systems in satellites and on the ground.

NASA said increased numbers of flares are quite common at the moment, since the sun's normal 11-year activity cycle is ramping up toward solar maximum, which is expected in later this year.



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