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See two intense X-class solar flares light up the sun

NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory gets an eyeful of two powerful solar flares.

Two X-class solar flares as seen by the SDO.

Here's an X-class that has nothing to do with mutants...

An X-class solar flare is the most intense kind you can get. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory caught sight of two such flares on Wednesday morning and one of them is a real doozy.

The NASA GIF shows the flares in quick succession and the difference in size is apparent. The first flare is an X2.2, while the second is much more intense and rates as an X9.3. Higher numbers correspond to stronger flares. 

NASA says the X9.3 is the largest flare recorded in our current solar cycle, which began in late 2008. Each solar cycle takes about 11 years and includes a period of increasing activity. Today's flares happened even though we're in a time of decreasing activity that will lead to solar minimum, when the sun is at its quietest.

Solar flares can cause disruptions to GPS and communication systems. NASA's Space Weather Prediction Center issues alerts about radiation storms and radio blackouts related to activity from the sun. Fortunately, NASA notes, "Harmful radiation from a flare cannot pass through Earth's atmosphere to physically affect humans on the ground." 

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