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Christmas Gift Guide
Sci-Tech

Sun spews intense solar flare just in time for the holidays

NASA unveils a video of "holiday lights on the sun" showing our closest star, clearly feeling festive, spitting out a powerful solar flare.

Solar flare X1.8
The sun kicks out a solar flare on the bottom right. NASA

Our planet-bound party lights may be visible from space, but they can't really compete with the show the sun put on December 19 when it spit out a rather large solar flare.

The flare was big enough to be classified as an X1.8. Flares that meet the X-class requirements are the most intense flares the sun puts out. The designation makes the sun sound like it should be enrolled in Professor X's mutant academy, but it's actually a handy way for scientists to describe the intensity of a flare. For example, an X2 flare is twice as intense as an X1 flare.

NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured images of the event, leading to an impressive video showing the flare bursting out from the sun. On close inspection, it looks a bit like the Eye of Sauron. The video shows a large disturbance, which almost sparkles before spewing out a wave of radiation.

Solar flares don't represent a direct danger to humans thanks to the shield provided by Earth's atmosphere, but they can cause problems with communications signals. NASA's space-weather watchers determined that the flare's eruption of solar particles into space was not directed at Earth, so it won't have an impact on GPS or communications down here on our planet. Think of that as a small holiday gift from the sun.