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Space Solar Flare Threat to Increase in 2013; AR1654 Sunspot Grows

Solar Flare Threat to Increase in 2013; AR1654 Sunspot Grows

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First Posted: Jan 15, 2013 10:59 AM EST
Solar Flare
The sun will reach its most active period of its 11-year cycle this year and into 2014. (Photo : Reuters)

The "space weather" around our planet could be getting a little bit more active, according to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. A massive sunspot known as AR1654 recently unleashed a M1-class flare into space, only one classification under the most severe X-class. The sunspot, which previously faced away from Earth, is now slowly turning toward it.

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Stretching about 112,000 miles, the sunspot is equivalent of 14 Earth diameters from end to end. Although most solar flares are usually nothing to worry about, M-class flares and above could cause brief radio blackouts at the poles and minor radiation storms that could endanger astronauts. These massive explosions on the sun's surface hurl electromagnetic particles into space.

NASA has already issued warnings that the sun will reach its most active period of its 11-year cycle this year and into 2014. However, solar flares could continue well into 2020. 

What is there to worry about? NASA estimates that if Earth received a direct hit from one of these giant solar flares, the United States alone could face up to $2 trillion worth of damages. Because current electronic systems are vulnerable to an electromagnetic pulse, the type of phenomenon that could occur during an X-class solar flare, it could take years to recover properly from one of these events.

According to Spaceweather.com, AR1654 is only getting larger as it turns toward Earth. This could mean bigger problems for the future.

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