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Northern Lights return? Strongest solar flare in more than a decade erupts from the sun

An X9.3 class solar flare flashes in the middle of the sun on Sept. 6, 2017. This image was captured by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory at 11:58:20UT. (Photo redit: NASA/GSFC/SDO)

The sun has been getting a bit active of late, and one sun spot unleashed a major solar flare early Wednesday morning.

The flare, measured as an X9.3 on the intensity scale , was the strongest in more than 10 years -- dwarfed by an X10 flare on Oct. 29, 2003.

X-rays and UV radiation from the blast ionized the top of Earth's atmosphere, causing a strong shortwave radio blackout over Europe, Africa and the Atlantic Ocean, according to Dr. Tony Phillips with SpaceWeather.com.

Phillips says overall, the flare ranks as the 14th strongest since 1976 , although it is relatively mild compared to the strongest solar flare events in recorded history. In decades past, strong solar flares could have even disrupted electrical or communication grids, but modern day technology is better built to weather the storms.

Solar flares do not have any effects on humans, except for maybe a "wow" factor : The storms can trigger intense and glorious displays of the Northern Lights. Between previous solar activity over the weekend and the current flare, Northern Lights may be visible around the Pacific Northwest through the rest of the week.

However, two caveats to finding the Northern Lights for these events: The moon is bright, which would wash out some of the lights, and dealing with a combination of smoke and clouds -- smoke early and east of the Cascades; clouds will increase Wednesday night and some clouds will be around Thursday and Friday nights as the pattern shifts to a more onshore flow.

But if the storm is intense, lights could be visible even through moonlight and city lights. As for clouds, hope for a break.

Where to find the lights? Best time is between midnight and 2 a.m. anywhere where you can find a clear northern horizon and away from city lights. Typically the mountains or Central Washington are good aurora viewing spots, but with the raging wildfires, may be too smoky to see anything.

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