On Monday 2 July 2012 NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory witnessed a large Solar Flare issuing from the AR1515 Sunspot, in the direction of Earth. It is thought likely that this will reach us on 4 July 2012. The flare is currently classed as a Class M Flare, likely to cause Aurora Borealis and Aurora Australis displays (Northern and Southern Lights), but unlikely to cause significant disruption to communication or electricity distribution networks.
Solar Dynamics Observatory footage of the AR1515 Solar Flare. NASA.
Sunspots are the result of intense magnetic storms on the surface of the Sun, which inhibit the convection currents in the photosphere, causing a localized cooling. This can lead to mass ejections of charged particles (i.e. Solar Flares) from the Sun's corona. These streams of charged particles interact with the magnetic fields of any planets in their path, releasing energy as photons (light) and producing spectacular displays near the magnetic poles (auroras). Particularly large Solar Flares can cause damage to electronic systems on satellites, and occasionally even on the ground.
See also NASA's Solar Dynamic Observatory observes the transit of Venus, Comet C/2011 W3 (Lovejoy) survives a close encounter with the Sun, Two solar flares coming our way, Solar storm baths Earth in protons and Comet seen falling into the Sun.
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