Solar cycles last an average of eleven years. The current cycle of the sun, which began in December 2008, saw the intensity of solar activity decline sharply, opening the way to the "solar minimum".
The path of the solar flare's CME is now being modelled to see whether some of the material could impact our atmosphere.
NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, which watches the sun constantly, captured images of both events.
As of about 11.30am NZT, data from several satellites showed a sharp increase in activity.
"An X2 is twice as intense as an X1, an X3 is three times as intense, etc", the agency explained.
Yesterday morning, at 8 a.m. EDT, the Sun unleashed the largest flare we've seen in the last 12 years. Both are classified by solar experts as X-class flares, considered the most powerful sun-storm category. As this occurs and magnetic energy is released, it triggers a massive eruption of energy across many wavelengths, including X-rays.
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Unfortunately, the solar flares come at a bit of an inopportune time for those of us on Earth (and especially in the US), as many are relying on weather satellites to continue monitoring Hurricane Irma and other Atlantic-based storms. "We're not having X-flares every day for a week, for instance - the activity is less frequent but no less potentially strong". It's hard to understand how much larger the sun is than the Earth.
This led to concern that the flares could cause geomagnetic storms that would then cause problems on Earth.
NASA also notes that the radio blackout from the flare has passed. These particles can zoom toward Earth at a few million miles an hour, hit our atmosphere, and create aurorae, or glittering curtains of light commonly known as the Northern Lights.
Solar flares occur in sun spots, the cooler regions of the sun.
M-class flares are medium-sized; they generally cause brief radio blackouts that affect Earth's polar regions. They could still be responsible for additional flares in the coming days.
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