U.S. space agency NASA warned this week that a massive solar flare recorded on Monday could cause spectacular auroras on Earth as soon as Wednesday.
Video published by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory shows the flare in multiple wavelengths jetting out from a sunspot on July 2. The agency said that it caused a magnetic burst that was, fortunately, not headed directly toward Earth — but if it were, such an eruption could even be powerful enough to cause significant static interruptions in some radio communications, or worse.
The burst was almost powerful enough to be classified by NASA as an X-class solar flare, the highest and most threatening rating. An X-class flare could significantly disrupt space-based electronics like global positioning systems, cause stock markets to crash or even knock out whole power grids for weeks or months, which NASA has been warning about for years now after predicting the current period of intense solar activity.
The latest flare shouldn’t be enough to cause such disruptions, but NASA says that conditions are ripe for another X-class flare. A similar event in 1989 caused blackouts in Canada, NASA noted in February.
The agency plans to launch a mission on Thursday to study solar flares and the sun’s constantly changing magnetic fields. NASA said the mission will help the development of space-based equipment that can better predict solar storms.
This video was published to YouTube by NASA on Monday, July 2, 2012.
Correction: NASA specified that the solar flare on July 2 was “not aimed squarely at Earth.”