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The Sun

Solar flares are massive emissions of ultra-violet radiation from the surface of the Sun. They are caused by a build up and sudden release of magnetic energy. We are currently at an active stage of the Sun's 11-year cycle of surface activity.

The flare was observed by NASA and further data has been obtained from the Stereo-B and Soho spacecraft.

The position of sunspot 1158 – which is 60,000 miles wide – from which it was released means that the radiation is heading in the direction of Earth. So despite occurring 150 million km away, this unusually large solar flare, called an X-flare, can have a strong and observable impact on our planet.

When a solar flare occurs, charged particles are propelled into space. These particles then travel through space and interact with our atmosphere. On the one hand, interactions with atmospheric gases can cause glorious light displays known as Aurora Borealis, or the Northern Lights. On the other hand, interactions with Earth's magnetic field can cause communication black-outs and power cuts.

The British Geological Survey (BGS) has issued a space weather alert in anticipation of the interactions of solar flare emissions with our magnetic field. One of the most severe geomagnetic storms in recent years caused a complete power-cut across Quebec, in Canada, in 1989.

All this exciting activity follows the SDO's first birthday on February 11th 2011.

Watch The Sun to find out more about solar flares.