Sun Unleashes Seventh X-Class Flare of 2012

The sun is nearing its most active period, according to NASA scientists.

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An image released by NASA on October 22, 2012 of the X1.8-class flare.

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The sun continued its active year, emitting three major solar flares — including one intense X-class flare — since Saturday, NASA announced Tuesday.

Luckily, none of the flares were directed at Earth, so the latest flare (an X1.8-class flare), which peaked around 11 p.m. EDT Monday, is unlikely to cause any havoc to humans. Earlier in the day, the same active region unleashed a less powerful flare, as it did on Saturday.

The charged particles associated with solar flares can knock out power grids, disable GPS satellites, and can pose a threat to humans aboard the International Space Station. According to NOAA, there were intermittent radio blackouts caused by the flare that have since subsided.

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According to NASA scientists, the sun is likely to continue being particularly active as it nears the height of its 11-year solar cycle. This increased activity is expected to continue until early 2014, according to Phillip Chamberlin of NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory.

Seven X-class flares have been recorded by the observatory so far this year. Monday's flare was larger than the X1.4 that was pointed at earth in early July, but much smaller than the X5.4 flare that temporarily disabled military satellites on March 7.

"We won't know when the actual peak was until a year or two after it quiets down," Chamberlin told U.S. News in August. "But [the sun's active cycle] is expected to peak in late 2013."

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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.