A solar eruption is seen rising up from the sun in this NASA image on December 31, 2012 and released to Reuters January 4, 2013. Magnetic forces drive the flow of plasma, but without sufficient force to overcome the sun?s gravity much of the plasma falls back into the sun according to NASA. The length of the eruption extends about 160,000 miles out from the Sun. With Earth about 7,900 miles in diameter, this relatively minor eruption is about 20 times the diameter of planet earth. (Photo : Reuters)
The sun rung in the New Year with a spectacular four-hour-long solar eruption that extended nearly 160,000 miles out, NASA announced on Friday morning. The solar eruption, which was called "relatively minor" by the space agency, occurred on Monday.
The Los Angeles Times reported that Earth is about 7,900 miles in diameter, meaning that Monday's eruption was nearly 20 times the diameter of Earth. "Magnetic forces drove the flow of plasma," NASA said, "but without sufficient force to overcome the sun's gravity much of the plasma fell back into the sun."
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The sun is expected to reach the peak of an 11-year cycle this year or in 2014 and NASA said that the peak of solar activity will likely be the quietest seen in at least 100 years, Space.com reported.
Joe Gurman, a project scientist for NASA's sun-observing mission Stereo, told Space.com, "It's likely to be the lowest solar maximum, as measured by sunspot 'number,' in more than a century." According to Space.com, sunspot numbers are low and radio waves have been "very subdued."
Sunspots, which appear as dark blemishes on the sun, sometimes cause explosions like solar flares that can reach the Earth and disrupt technology. Space.com reported that the largest solar flares, called X-class flares, can short out communication satellites or power grids. These large flares can also pose dangers to spacecraft and astronauts that may be in their way, the LA Times reported.
NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured Monday's solar eruption on camera, Space.com reported.
WATCH A TIMELAPSE VIDEO OF MONDAY'S SOLAR ERUPTION