Nasa Reveals Startling Image Of Solar Flare As Sun Nears Maximum Activity

23/10/2012 10:22 | Updated 23 December 2012

Nasa has released a stunning picture of a solar flare erupting from the sun earlier this month.

The Solar Dynamics Observatory captured the image of an M9-class flare on 20 October.

M flares are the weakest form of flares - but can still cause so-called 'space weather' on Earth. The M9 is the second-strongest type of flare in its own class.

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Solar flares are giant bursts of radiation thrown off into space. While they are not powerful enough to penetrate Earth's atmosphere and cause harm to people on the surface, they do disturb the atmosphere where data and communications signals are carried.

Nasa said the radio blackout caused by the flare was an R2 - relatively low on the scale of R1 to R5.

The sun is currently growing more volatile as it moves towards its regular 11-year activity peak - known as solar maximum.

But while these flares are normal, they are still spectacular when seen from Earth.

Take a look below for some of our other favourite recent space photos.

59 Incredible Space Photos