The most intense solar flare of 2014 has been recorded, and the ensuing solar winds will deliver a glancing blow to Earth, resulting in a weak impact on Feb. 26.
A long-lived sunspot rotated into view today and erupted in a massive solar flare - the strongest of the year. The last recorded flare of a similar magnitude happened on March 7, 2012.
A solar flare is a sudden and explosive release of energy on the Sun that produces bursts of radiation, and they tend to occur above sunspots - regions of intense magnetic activity. Today's flare was big enough to cause planet-wide radio blackouts and long-lasting radiation storms - had it been aimed toward Earth. Fortunately, the radiation emitted from the shockwave - which has been estimated to be traveling at nearly 4.4 million mph - is following a trajectory that is far enough away from us that it will result in only a glancing blow. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration expects a weak impact late in the day on Feb. 26.
NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory recorded a video of the solar flare revealing just how the hot plasma blasts off the Sun's surface. The largest flare ever observed was in 1859; visible to the naked eye, it produced stunning auroras and set telegraph systems on fire in what is known as the "Carrington event," or the "1859 Solar Superstorm."