Late last month, the sun let off another solar flare—and the particles associated with the storm were some of the fastest NASA has ever recorded, reaching speeds of up to 2,200 miles per second, or 7.92 million miles per hour.
NASA scientist Phillip Chamberlin, with the solar physics laboratory, called the July 23 "coronal mass ejection," or CME, a "huge" event and said the storm also caused one of the largest magnetic fields ever measured. Luckily, the storm was "directed away from the Earth," so nothing terrestrial was likely affected.
Because it wasn't facing Earth, NASA scientists weren't able to determine the size of the flare that caused the particle ejection. CMEs are associated with large solar storms and are the charged particles that can knock satellites and power grids offline.
According to NASA's "SCORE" system, which rates CMEs according to their speed, last month's event was "extremely rare." More common CMEs clock in at about 620 miles per second.
The sun has been extremely volatile this year, Chamberlin says, because the sun is likely entering the peak of its "solar cycle." Strong solar storms are expected to happen with increasing frequency until the beginning of 2014.
"There definitely will be more [storms]. We're trying to see exactly where we are in the solar cycle," he says. "We won't know when the actual peak was until a year or two after it quiets down, but the predictions say [the sun is still getting more volatile]."
The sun's active region responsible for the July 23 eruption caused four previous flares before it rotated out of Earth's sight.
"It was a very active active region," he says. Another active region is expected to rotate toward Earth within the next week, Chamberlin says.
His team is still working on discovering why the July 23 eruption caused such a fast CME.
Jason Koebler is a science and technology reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow him on Twitter or reach him at email@example.com
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Corrected 8/17/12: The headline of this story has been changed to reference the speed of the particles, not the solar flare itself.