The Sun has emitted its first two X-class solar flares of 2013, the first having happened on Sunday May 12, and the second yesterday. Both were relatively small in size, neither coming close to the record breaking X-flares of 2011 and 2012, yet were still powerful and resulted in spectacular images. Unlike the coronal mass ejection that happened back on April 12, these two were not directed towards Earth.
The biggest difference between the coronal mass ejection unleashed last month and these two, however, is that April's CME was an M-class, while these two are X-class. An X-class solar flare is approximately ten times more powerful than an M-class flare, obviously bringing with it potential for higher damages. The first flare, occurring on May 12, was an X1.7, while the second flare, occurring on May 13, was an X2.8, making it 2013's strongest thus far. Both resulted in coronal mass ejections.
The X1.7 solar flare reached its peak at about 10PM at night, and earned the designation of 2013's first X-class solar flare. The coronal mass ejection that followed was not directed towards Earth, but the radiation resulting from the flare did cause some radio blackouts, which have since been restored. According to NASA, this particular CME left the sun going 745 miles per hour.
A couple hours later, just after midnight, the X2.8 solar flare was unleashed, coming out twice as powerful as the first one and making it the biggest so far this year. The coronal mass ejection that followed was launched at 1200 miles per second and aimed towards NASA's STEREO-B, Spitzer, and Messenger spacecrafts. While there was a risk of damage, the agency said the crafts could be switched into safe mode if necessary.
Solar flares are currently happening at a more rapid rate than typical because the sun's activity cycle, which lasts 11 years, is nearing its solar maximum, which is slated to happen later this year. NASA assures readers that the solar flares are normal, and that these are the first this year of a cycle that began back in early 2011, with the one that happened on May 13, 2013 being the 15th in the cycle.