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The sun is sending fireworks to perhaps celebrate the debut of the latest "Star Trek Into Darkness" movie, which has been released this week. Sunspot AR1748 has discharged four powerful solar flares in the past few days, is expected to be more active, and is rotating into more direct view across the sun's near side. Flares are also connected with coronal mass ejections (CMEs). Of the four CMEs created this week, NOAA space weather forecasters say there's a 40 percent chance that the most recent one could bounce off Earth on May 17.
Solar flares are powerful bursts that send light and radiation into space. CMEs, usually produced in conjunction with solar flares, erupt from the sun and send billions of tonnes of solar material into space. They are not directly dangerous to us, but can disrupt atmospheric communications services such as GPS and cell phones. While personal disruptions can be annoying, GPS airline navigation and extremely accurate clocks that govern financial transactions could be affected.
The current quartet of solar flares has been categorized to reach the highest measuring category, X-class, with the highest of the four given an X-3.2 rating. It is the 18th X-class flare of the current solar season.
The good news is that NASA's observation satellites and NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center are constantly monitoring space activity, and can give warnings, similar to hurricane warnings, when potentially dangerous solar activity is approaching.
Another highlight is the appearance of auroras.
Above is sunspot AR1748.
May 14 flare
2013 is currently at the solar maximum, which is the most active part of the sun's 11-year cycle of solar flare activity.
Solar flares erupt with tremendous heat, but don't worry; it dissipates before reaching Earth. But they can temporarily alter the upper atmosphere and create memorable disruptions. Your GPS could send you to the wrong location.
NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured this image of the X1.2 class solar flare on May 14.
Starting at the top left and going clockwise, you can see the size of each of the four most recent solar flares.