Two new solar flares erupted from the sun on Saturday, blasting streams of plasma and charged particles into space.
The outbursts were both categorized as M-class solar flares. They exploded from the surface of the sun at 12:27 a.m. ET and 12:44 p.m. ET, according to NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.
The flares are the latest in a string of powerful eruptions from a sunspot region called AR1429, which has been particularly active this week. This dynamic region has already unleashed three strong X-class solar flares.
On Tuesday, two powerful X-class eruptions triggered the strongest solar storm in eight years, according to solar physicists at the Space Weather Prediction Center, which is operated as part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Weather Service.
Space weather scientists use five categories — A, B, C, M and X — to rank solar flares based on their strength and severity. A-class flares are the weakest types of sun storms, while X-class eruptions are the most powerful.
Today's flares also unleashed a wave of plasma and charged particles, called a coronal mass ejection or CME, into space. This wave is expected to reach Earth on Monday, on the heels of a previous CME released by an earlier flare this week.
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When these particles arrive at our planet, they could interfere with satellite communications and even power grids on the ground. They are also likely to spark auroras, or northern and southern lights, which are caused when charged particles collide with Earth's magnetic field.
Skywatchers this week have already spotted particularly amazing views of the lights, and are gearing up for more.
- Photos: Auroras Supercharged by March 2012 Solar Storm
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