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Photo shows incredibly rare reason why Space Station mission was delayed

Photo shows incredibly rare reason why Space Station mission was delayed

Go ahead, you can look right at the sun. Just this once.

The pesky solar flare shown here came from a spot named Region 144. The sun's activity not only delayed an important NASA International Space Station resupply mission, but it also forced airlines to alter their polar flight routes.

The rare photo below, courtesy of NASA, shows the sunspot just after it rotated to the right, past "center disc." The flare was seven times the size of the earth.

Sunspot "Region 144" flared just as it passed center disc, which means it sent thousands of radioactive particles racing toward earth. (NASA SDO).

As Bill Murtagh from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration explains, when a flare happens in the center of the sun, as we view it from the earth, that is when the real problems happen.

"This is critical because when [a sunspot] is in that central location, an eruption (coronal mass ejection or CME) is going to be earth-directed." Murtagh told TheBlaze Blog.

The radiation and EMP effects from these solar flares can disrupt power grid distribution, satellite transmissions and radio communications, among other effects. Thankfully, this flare just reached "S3" status, or 1,000 particle flux units - the intensity or magnitude to which the electrons have been energized.

Sunspots of this magnitude are common, Murtagh said, especially in the current 11-year "solar maximum" of activity. In previous cycles of maximum activity in 2003, the sun had a flare that reached about X35 or 35 times larger than this recent flare, according to John Kappenman of Storm Analysis Consultants.

"Fortunately [it was] not directed towards the Earth," Kappenman said. "It saturated NOAA's X Ray sensors it was so off the charts large... it would be this class flare or a combination of several larger flares (like X5 to X10 level) over a period of several days that are most likely to give rise to a really big storm like the Carrington Event of 1859 or the 1921 Railroad Storm."

Geeked out yet? Want to see more? Let me know on Twitter (@elizabethakreft).

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