A giant sunspot region called AR1944 that is currently directly facing the Earth erupted yesterday with a powerful solar flare sending a blast of electrically charged particles our way. The solar eruption has been classified as an X1.2-class explosion and it could create auroras in the northern latitudes as early as tonight and also during the next couple of nights. X-class flares are the strongest category of solar outbursts, although X1.2 is toward the category's low end. AR1944 is one of the biggest sunspot regions of the past decade more than 200,000 kilometers wide with dozens of dark cores (solar image courtesy NASA/SDO and spaceweather.com).
As a result of the solar radiation storm, today’s planned launch at the NASA/Wallops Island, Virginia facility of an Antares supply rocket to the International Space Station has been postponed until later tomorrow at the earliest. More solar flares are possible from AR1944 over the next 48 hours or so and these could also have an impact on the Earth’s upper atmosphere given the current location of the huge sunspot region. The sun is currently in an active phase of its 11-year solar cycle though it has been much weaker than some previous solar maximums. The current cycle, called Solar Cycle 24, began in 2008.