The sun fired off an intense solar flare Wednesday (July 3), giving NASA scientists a solar preview to the Fourth of July holiday in the United States.
The solar flare erupted at about 3 a.m. EDT (0700 GMT) and was spotted by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, which snapped a photo of the July solar storm.
"Just a few minutes after 7:00 UT, the sun produced an M1.5-class solar flare. Perhaps an early Fourth of July fireworks?" SDO mission officials wrote in a Facebook post announcing the flare.
M-class solar flares are medium-strength solar storms that can supercharge Earth's northern lights displays when they are aimed at Earth. NASA officials reported that the July 3 solar flare erupted from a point just over the eastern side, or limb, of the sun, so it was not directed at our planet.
The most powerful type of solar flares are X-class sun storms. When aimed directly at Earth, X-class flares can pose a threat to astronauts in space, interfere with satellite signals and potentially affect electrical power grids on Earth.
Wednesday's flare followed close on the heels of a dazzling sun eruption on Monday (July 1), which sent a tendril of super-hot solar plasma dancing over the surface of the star. The SDO spacecraft captured a video of that solar prominence, as scientists call the events, in spectacular detail.
The sun is currently in the middle of an active phase of its 11-year solar weather cycle. The current weather cycle, known as Solar Cycle 24, is expected to reach its peak this year.
NASA's SDO spacecraft is one of several spacecraft monitoring the sun to track solar flares, plasma eruptions and other space weather phenomena. The $850 million observatory stares at the sun continuously to create spectacular high-definition videos of solar weather in different wavelengths of light.
Copyright 2013 SPACE.com, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Authorizes say an 11-year-old girl and her father have died while others were left injured after a series of dangerous avalanches swept Alpine ski resorts in France and Switzerland.
The same storm that caused officials to close a section of Interstate 90 in Washington on Saturday will continue to spread snow and unusually cold air across the western United States early this week.
Gita remains on track to slam into New Zealand with heavy rain and strong winds around Tuesday.
While snow continues to create slick travel from the Rockies to the Upper Midwest, ice may put some other residents of the North Central states in the dark early this week.
Recent snowfall across the northeastern United States will not remain on the ground long with springlike warmth set to quickly surge back in.
A quick-moving storm blanketed the northeastern United States with disruptive snow during the first half of the weekend, just days after the region experienced a brief taste of spring.
Heavy snow is walloping the northeastern United States as a fast-moving storm impacts the region into Sunday morning.