This massive solar flare will make for dazzling northern lights

Things are getting pretty wild on the surface of the Sun. Our resident star is nearing the pinnacle of its 11-year cycle of solar activity, which is scheduled to climax in 2013. As it approaches peak activity, energetic flares — like the one pictured here — are expected to increase in both frequency and intensity.

The image up top is a still from the video below, which was captured by NASA's Solar Dynamics Laboratory shortly after 6pm ET on Tuesday. The uncharacteristically strong flare was of X2.1 classification (solar flares are classified as A, B, C, M, or X, in order of intensity), and while the ejection of high-energy particles by class X flares are known to interfere with radio communication, spacecraft electronics, and the flight path of low-orbiting satellites, space-weather forecasters predict that the bulk of this blast's solar material will miss the planet.

By Friday, however, the solar material that does make contact with Earth's magnetic field is expected to make for brighter-than-average northern lights — the beautiful, naturally occurring waves of light commonly observed in the skies of high latitude regions.

You can read more about the increasing frequency of solar flares over at MSNBC

NASA via MSNBC
Top image and video via NASA