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"A solar flare from sunspot 930, which first appeared last week, has sent a giant coronal mass ejection directly toward Earth. The X-Class flare is classified as one of the larger outbursts from the sun and it could cause strong geomagnetic storms.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued an advisory reporting a geomagnetic storm in progress that has produced strong radiation blackouts. Strong to severe geomagnetic storming is expected through Friday. The advisory warns of potential disruptions over the next four days. The astronauts on the space shuttle will be safe from the sun's cloud of gas, NOAA said.

Solar flares are tremendous explosions on the surface of the sun that are caused by the sudden release of magnetic energy. Flares can eject solar particles almost to the speed of light, and heat solar material to tens of millions of degrees.

Coronal mass ejections are clouds of electrified, magnetic gas weighing billions of tons. When directed at Earth, the ejections can cause spectacular auroral displays and magnetic storms that occasionally affect satellites, radio communications and power systems."

"Japan's Aerospace Exploration Agency heads a collaboration of space agencies in operating the Hinode spacecraft, which is studying the sun's outer atmosphere, or corona. The X-Ray Telescope is designed to capture images of the corona, known for its explosive activity.

This image reveals, for the first time, that X-ray bright points consist of magnetic loops and shows never before seen details of the polar region of the sun."

"Here is a solar flare in progress."

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