The sun is approaching its solar maximum, the peak of its 11-year activity cycle. Courtesy: NASA/SDO
This picture, released by the agency's Solar Dynamics Observatory, is a false colour representation of Thursday's solar flare, in a combination of light at two different wavelengths.
The flare was the strongest yet so far this year, sending billions of tons of solar particles through space at almost 1,000 km/s
The class-M6.5 burst was relatively weak -- about ten-times less than the strongest X-class -- but NASA says there's more on the way as sun reaches the peak of its normal 11-year cycle, expected in late 2013.
"Increased numbers of flares are quite common at the moment," the space agency said in a press release. "Humans have tracked this solar cycle continuously since it was discovered, and it is normal for there to be many flares a day during the sun's peak activity."
The most recent flare was strong enough to cause a brief radio blackout -- rated at R2 on a five-point scale.
Stronger flares can disrupt global communications, damage satellites and pose a risk to orbiting astronauts.