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Sun Unleashes Monster Blast—Biggest in a Year

The sun looks plenty angry, now that it’s at the peak of its 11-year solar cycle. A powerful solar blast uncorked late Monday was the biggest one in more than a year, report space-weather officials.

Erupting from an already active sunspot region, the outburst is classified as an X4.9-class flare: “X” in that designation stands for “extreme.”

“Although impressive, the source of this event is well off the sun-Earth line,” the National Weather Service’s Space Weather Prediction Center said in a statement.  That means that an outburst of charged solar particles erupting away from the sun, a so-called coronal mass ejection, won’t hit Earth. (Also see “What If the Biggest Solar Storm on Record Happened Today?”)

That’s bad news for anyone hoping to see the northern lights, which result from collisions between charged particles blasted off of the solar surface and gaseous particles in Earth’s atmosphere.

But they might just need to be patient, because the sunspot region “will continue to rotate into a better position to affect Earth over the next week or so,” according to the prediction center.

So stay tuned, sky-watchers; we may see some fireworks ahead.

Follow Dan Vergano on Twitter.