X-Class Solar Flare Causes Radio Outages

The sixth X-Class flare so far this year.

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A giant sunspot released the sun's sixth massive solar flare of the year Thursday, and early indications are that it may have been powerful enough to black out NOAA radio, according to a NASA scientist.

It was the sixth X-class flare this year, and Phillip Chamberlain, a scientist with NASA's solar dynamics observatory, says they are likely to continue through the beginning of 2014 as the sun enters the most active period of its eight-year solar cycle.

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Thursday's flare has already caused what NOAA classifies as an R3 radio blackout, meaning GPS satellite signals "degraded for about an hour" and there was a "wide area blackout of high frequency radio communication" on Earth.

According to Chamberlain, the region from which the flare erupted was on the part of the sun facing Earth, so it could potentially cause temporary power outages and further communication systems disruptions. He said the observatory would know more within a few hours if Earth is likely to be impacted.

On July 6, a similarly sized flare caused no significant problems on Earth. Thursday's flare, classified as an X1.4, was much smaller than the X5.4 flare that erupted on March 7 and caused temporary outages of military satellites.

Jason Koebler is a science and technology reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow him on Twitter or reach him at jkoebler@usnews.com