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Huge solar flare ... but no big scare

An unusually strong X2.1-class solar flare blasted out from the sun on Tuesday, but experts say the outburst shouldn't impact Earth significantly — unless you're a fan of the northern lights. Auroral displays could be somewhat brighter on Friday, when a wave of electrically charged particles ejected by the blast is expected to deal a glancing blow to Earth's magnetic field.

The flare from sunspot 1283 peaked at 6:20 p.m. ET, according to the science team for NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, which observed the event in ultraviolet and X-ray wavelengths. X-class flares are the most powerful types of events, capable of triggering radio blackouts. This flare was associated with a coronal mass ejection, an eruption of a giant cloud of solar material. If such an ejection hits our planet's magnetic field just wrong, it can disrupt electrical grids and satellites. Fortunately, most of the material ejected on Tuesday will go far above the planet, space-weather forecasters say.

A less energetic flare was sighted in the same region of the sun's disk earlier in the day. The recent upswing in solar activity suggests that the sun is on its way toward the peak of its 11-year cycle, after an unusually long quiet stretch. Experts expect the peak to come in 2013.

More about the power of the sun:

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