After a prolonged quiet period, the sun let off an explosion Wednesday when a new sunspot fired a small solar flare lasting over an hour.

 

The high-energy blast caused disruptions for some radio operators in Europe and Africa, but it was accompanied by a slower-moving, massive cloud of charged particles known as a coronal mass ejection (CME) that will deliver

Earth a glancing blow this weekend. All those particles colliding with Earth’s magnetic field could turn up the range and the intensity of the Aurora, also known as the northern and southern lights.

Aurora are caused by particles from the sun that are constantly flowing toward our planet, but a CME delivers an extra large helping that can really amp up the display. One of the most helpful metaphors for understanding the difference between a solar flare and a CME comes from NASA, which uses the example of a firing cannon.

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