Spectacular Solar Flare Impresses, May Disrupt GPS and Power Grids

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It’s another startling picture of our very own Sun that might pass for a CGI still from a summer disaster flick. You know, right before our backyard star reaches across the void with fingers of fire and gobbles us up. But don’t worry, it’ll only strike us a “glancing blow,” says NASA.

The sun pitched a pretty impressive solar fit yesterday at 1:41 a.m. ET—its biggest in two years—and our own Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) grabbed a bunch of stunning snaps. They show the sun spitting up a medium-sized flare and a small radiation storm, culminating in a dazzling coronal mass ejection or CME (the awe-inspiring curtain of fire in the shot below) issuing from a complex of sunspots.


According to NASA, a massive cloud of relatively cool particles “mushroomed up,” then fell back, to cover an area roughly equal in area to half the sun’s surface.

(More on TIME.com: Watch the Sun Eat a Comet and (Partly) Explode)

Fortunately the CME, moving at a rate of about 870 miles per second—that’s over 3.1 million miles per hour—isn’t headed directly for us, but it may come close enough to trigger auroras at high latitudes and cause minor disruptions to satellites.

NASA says it should strike during the early evening June 8th (tonight, around 6 p.m.) through June 9th (for the record, we’re about 93 million miles from the Sun). The U.S. National Weather Service (NWS) followed with a statement noting the solar flare had released radiation not seen since 2006.

“This one was rather dramatic,” said Bill Murtagh, NWS program coordinator for the Space Weather Prediction Center (via AFP).

Time to head for your solar bunker? Not yet. NWS says to expect “minor” to “moderate” levels of geomagnetic storm activity, which may trigger disturbances to Earth’s power grids and GPS satellites. That, and NWS added the flare could “lead to some rerouting of flights over the polar regions.”

Pictures not doing it for you? Then check out this minute-length video of the event (with multiple zoomed and different spectral angles) as it happened.