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The sun unleashed its first super-powerful flare of the year on Wednesday, and the intense eruption was aimed directly at Earth, space weather experts say.
The monster X-class solar flare, the strongest category of sun storms, originated from a sunspot known as Active Region 12297 and peaked at 12:22 p.m. ET. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured stunning video of the X2.2-class outburst as it erupted.
AR12297 has fired off a number of medium-strength flares over the last few days. Wednesday's event ratcheted things up a notch, causing an hourlong blackout in high-frequency radio communications over wide areas, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Space Weather Prediction Center.
Solar flares are often accompanied by coronal mass ejections, or CMEs, enormous clouds of superheated plasma that streak through space at millions of miles per hour. While the radiation from a flare reaches Earth in just minutes, it typically takes CMEs several days to get here. Powerful Earth-directed CMEs can cause geomagnetic storms that disrupt power grids and satellite navigation.
It's not yet clear whether a CME is associated with Wednesday's event. However, the Space Weather Prediction Center already has issued a minor geomagnetic storm warning for Friday in anticipation of three earlier CMEs.