(Photo : courtesy NASA/SDO)
Radio communication on Earth was temporarily blacked out today, as the most powerful solar flare of the year erupted from the sun, said officials from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
The solar flare occurred at 3:16 a.m. EDT and registered as a M6.5-class sun storm, a mid-level flare as far as solar activity is concerned, Space.com reports. The event coincided with a coronal mass ejection, a blast into space of super-hot solar plasma.
NASA's sun-watching Solar Dynamics Observatory recorded dramatic vide that showed the flare in extreme detail.
The SDO spacecraft is one of several space-based observatories keeping track of the sun's solar weather events.
"This is the strongest flare seen so far in 2013," NASA spokeswoman Karen Fox said in a statement. She noted the sun has been relatively calm lately, but it's heading into a peak activity period.
"Increased numbers of flares are quite common at the moment, since the sun's normal 11-year cycle is ramping up toward solar maximum, which is expected in late 2013," Fox said.
Today's M-class solar flare was an estimated 10 times weaker than the strongest X-class flares.
Still, M-class flares can still trigger space weather effects near Earth, such as the atmospheric displays known as the northern lights or radio frequency disturbances.
The solar flare triggered a short-lived radio communications blackout on Earth that registered as an R2 event, a relatively mild occurrence on a scale of R1 to R5, that typically disrupts high-frequency radio communication on the sunlit side of the globe for tens of minutes and causes the degradation of low-frequency navigation signals, according to space weather data maintained by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Fox said NASA officials are tracking the coronal mass ejection to see if it poses any space weather concerns for Earth.
Ever since it was discovered, the solar activity cycle has been tracked continuously by scientists, said Fox. "It is normal for there to be many flares a day during the sun's peak activity."