Changing Planet

Watch: Sun Unleashes First Big Flare of 2014, May Create Colorful Aurora Light Show

A giant solar flare erupted on the sun on January 7, seen here by NASA’s solar monitoring satellite. Credit: NASA/Solar Dynamic Observatory

The new year has started off with a bang, with a powerful solar flare being hurled off the surface of the sun on Tuesday.

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory and STEREO spacecrafts managed to capture the eruption of a massive X-class flare—the largest type on the Richter scale of solar explosions—as it occurred above a group of sunspots directly facing Earth.

This Jan. 7th coronagraph movie from NASA's SOHO spacecraft shows the giant CME - cloud of charged particles being hurled off the sun and into space.  Credit: Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO)
This January 7 coronagraph movie from NASA’s SOHO spacecraft shows the giant cloud of charged particles being hurled off the sun into space. Also visible as “snow” are high-energy protons associated with the solar blast hitting the sensors as they fly by the probe. Credit: Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO)

The sunspot group that is the source of the fireworks is called AR1944 and is considered one of the largest sunspot groups seen in the past decade.

“The sprawling active region is more than 200,000 km wide and contains dozens of dark cores. Its primary core, all by itself, is large enough to swallow Earth three times over,” according to the website.

Target Earth?

The solar explosion above the sunspot, which happened Tuesday at approximately 18: 32 GMT (1:32 pm EST), appears to have hurled a giant cloud of charged particles known as a coronal mass ejection (CME) directly toward Earth.

Sky-watchers in both high and mid latitudes around the world may see some colorful sky shows in the form of auroras or northern lights starting in the mid-morning hours GMT (very early morning hours EST) on January 9, when the cloud is expected to slam into our planet’s magnetic field.

NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center says there is an estimated 60 percent chance of a strong geomagnetic storm hitting Earth in the coming days. So keep looking up.

Follow Andrew Fazekas, the Night Sky Guy, on Twitter and Facebook.

Andrew Fazekas, aka The Night Sky Guy, is a science writer, broadcaster, and lecturer who loves to share his passion for the wonders of the universe through all media. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic News and is the national cosmic correspondent for Canada’s Weather Network TV channel, space columnist for CBC Radio network, and a consultant for the Canadian Space Agency. As a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Andrew has been observing the heavens from Montreal for over a quarter century and has never met a clear night sky he didn’t like.
  • Sharon stocks

    I love watching the sky for things to happen an if I see an aurora tonight I will be over the moon it will be amazing x

  • Resi

    I’ve never seen auroras before so hopefully the sky clears up midnight tonight for an amazing show.

  • Celtic

    I really hope we can view this,! So amazing!

  • federico flores

    Estamos regidos por los eventos solares que de una u otra forma impactan en nuestro planeta ,no en vano los antiguos adoraban al Sol.

  • pamela J parr

    Will we be able to see this geomagnetic storm in ATL,GA without a telescope?


    But at what time can we see it most? Do we have some timeframe whem it’s most. Visible? Since it’s so cold outside, it will be nice to know this information.

  • Mahabubur Razraju

    I like National Geographic for myself. I like adventure environment for my knowledge.

  • sirlei pont da rosa

    infelismente as catástrofes climáticas já estão acontecendo..e agora as explosões solares… é assustador.. o que ainda nos espera..

  • Dattanand bhat

    what effect does it have on earth?

  • R

    Can anyone please explain to me what the shooting stars are and why they increase in activity as the flare expands outwards?

  • Juan de la Cruz

    Related with the threat described in this article, there is an app for protect your family and home against the extreme solar storms!

    These are the links:

  • Ketty Petacchi

    oh! it was fantastic but terrifiant!

  • yvonne

    Every time something like this happens, it’s cloudy.

  • Sebastian

    To R of South Africa, The “shooting stars” are protons appearing on the video as they collide with the detector on the space craft.

  • joe Blow

    South Africa
    Can anyone please explain to me what the shooting stars are and why they increase in activity as the flare expands outwards?”

    Didn’t you read the caption?

    “Also visible as “snow” are high-energy protons associated with the solar blast hitting the sensors as they fly by the probe”

  • K Allen

    Why is there a disc placed over the center of the solar flare video, obscuring the central portion of this phenomenon?

  • rihab osman

    Can you tell us please where and when can we see this cloudy as of course we didn’t notice this bang

  • Sarah Arnold

    It’s so amazing,stunning and suprising how God works through us,earth and space,not just that he has control over everything!!

  • Timothy

    we got lucky again x flares can take out our electrical grid and put us back in the pre modern days

  • Abby

    This picture looks fake.WHO AGREES?????

  • nuclearexplosions

    The Sun is like constant nuclear explosion of hydrogen gas of gas just lighting up. It’s been burning for millions of years. It’s like metal mass of dense hydrogen and is burning away via nuclear explosions. Without the Sun’s energy there is no life on earth.

  • nuclearexplosions

    Men have been awed by the Sun, Moon, and stars for thousands of year. They even name the Sun God. and Jesus, Son of God…or The Sun God derivation.

  • nuclearexplosions

    The explosions in the Sun are hydrogen nuclear explosions, mankind has not invented anything. lights, electricity, computers are just copies of nature.

  • nuclearexplosions

    Natures fireworks everyday in the Sun.

  • aniehma

    All I wanna know is “can these spontaneous flares cause an extinction to earth?”.. If so, will we at least know of it in advance and what would the impact be like? Explosion? I’m not clued up with astronomy or whatever it is so excuse the ignorance.. The passage about swallowing earth 3times kinda have me stuck on what the hell does that mean lol … TX..

  • Kate


  • Anacaren

    I loved the video!and of course the article.

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