Another major solar flare heads toward Earth

Fourth significant solar flare in 9 days; it may affect navigation and communications systems Thursday

The sun emitted yet another significant solar flare on Wednesday that forecasters say may affect navigation and communications systems at some point today.

NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured an image of a "significant" solar flare emitted on Wednesday. (Image: NASA)

Yesterday's flare was the fourth intense one the sun has emitted since Oct. 23. Two solar flares -- the most intense kind emitted by the sun emits -- were unleashed last Friday, causing a temporary radio blackout.

Forecasters at the National Weather Service's Space Weather Prediction Center say they're anticipating minor geomagnetic storm conditions today, which could disrupt GPS satellites some communications systems today.

According to NASA, yesterday's solar flare peaked at 5:54 p.m. ET. It was classified as an X2.3 class flare, more intense than the ones emitted last Friday. Those were classified at X1.7 and X2.1.

An X-class flare is the most intense, and the number adds more information about its strength. An X2, for instance, is twice as intense as an X1.

It's not unusual to see an increase in solar flares now as the sun's normal 11-year activity cycle is near its peak.

The largest X-class flare in this cycle was an X6.9 that erupted on Aug. 9, 2011.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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