On Tuesday, the sun's first major solar flare of the year emerged from a massive sunspot on the surface of our favourite star, known as AR1944 and described by NASA as "one of the largest sunspots seen in the last 10 years."
AR1944, which is "as wide as seven earths," has an active region which spans more than 200,000 km of solar terrain and contains many dark cores, the largest of which could swallow Earth three times over. The sunspot is located in a position where it almost directly faces our planet, and this means that there is a threat of geoeffective eruptions. NOAA forecasters predicted a 90% chance of geomagnetic storms on Jan. 9th-10th when a coronal mass ejection (CME) is due to strike Earth's magnetic field. Auroras may be visible and solar winds could peak at 700 km/s (1.6 million mph.
Tuesday's X1.2-Class solar flare delayed the launch of a commercial spaceflight to the International Space Station. The flight was a cargo mission planned by Orbital Sciences, using their Antares rocket and robotic Cygnus spacecraft.
"We are concerned about mission failure," Orbital's Chief Technical Officer Antonio Elias told reporters, adding that his company will be monitoring the potential for solar radiation to interfere with critical systems like gyroscopes and avionics.
To learn more about solar flares, read this excellent e-book by Whitley Strieber, which will tell you everything you need to know about these bursts of radiation and their potential to impact our lives.