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A 360 Degree View of an X-class Flare and A CME
Close-up of solar flare from November 3, 2011 as captured by SDO.
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The Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) captured this image of the solar flare from November 3, 2011. Credit: NASA/SDO

The sun sent out two different kinds of solar activity last night in different directions. One was an X 1.9 class flare that burst out from an active region on the sun, numbered AR1339, which just rounded over the left side of the sun into Earth's view. That flare began at 3:27 PM ET on November 3, 2011 and triggered some disruption to radio communications on Earth beginning about 45 minutes later. Scientists are continuing to watch this active region as it could well produce additional solar activity as it passes across the front of the sun.

The second eruption was a coronal mass ejection (CME), beginning about 8:45 PM ET that came from a different region, bursting off the backside of the sun. That CME is one of the brightest seen so far this solar cycle, and it is headed in the direction of Venus. NASA is able to track such solar activity in all directions, due to a heliophysics fleet of spacecraft watching the sun from all sides –in particular, the two Solar Terrestrial RElations Observatory (STEREO) spacecraft now sit on opposite sides of the sun providing an entire 360 degree view of solar activity.

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A November 3, 2011 coronal mass ejection headed for Venus can be seen bursting off to the bottom right in this movie from the Solar Terrrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO). The sun is blocked in this image – which is called a coronograph – to make it easier to see the light from the relatively dim solar atmosphere, the corona. This movie is from the low-resolution data provided by STEREO in real time; high resolution data from STEREO is available some 48 hours later. Credit: NASA/STEREO//The Sun Today

What is a solar flare? What is a coronal mass ejection?

For answers to these and other space weather questions, please visit the Spaceweather Frequently Asked Questions page.

Karen C. Fox
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center