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Strongest Sun Eruption This Year Headed Straight Toward Earth, Alights Aurora

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Plasma from the year’s strongest Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) yet has been hurtling toward Earth since the early morning hours of April 11, when it blasted out from the sun at 600 miles per second.

The M-Class 6.5-magnitude flare that sparked the CME peaked at 3:16 a.m. Eastern Time, and the CME began at 3:36 a.m., NASA said. Tthough it was not the strongest (which is termed an X-Class), Mother Earth’s magnetosphere will take a direct hit.

The photo says it all. That bright blotch is really the top of the column of plasma that is pointing toward Earth. If seen sideways, would have been one of those huge plumes that have been so often chronicled here. (Related: Solar Eruption Flings Particles Directly at Mother Earth)

CMEs are solar phenomenon that hurtle billions of tons of solar particles into space, reaching Earth between one and three days later. The April 11 CME caused a brief radio blackout in space that has already passed, NASA said. On the upside, the event will make for some spectacular aurora the night of Saturday April 13, when the material bounces off Earth’s magnetosphere.

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NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured this image of an M6.5 class flare at 3:16 EDT on April 11, 2013.