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The sun unleashed one of the biggest flares ever seen during its current activity cycle late Tuesday — an X5.4-class outburst strong enough to trigger a radio blackout. The resulting geomagnetic storm could affect electrical grids, communication links, satellite navigation systems and airline schedules over the next couple of days.
The outburst at 7:24 p.m. ET was followed about an hour later by an X1.3-class blast. Solar flares are rated on a letter-plus-number scale, with X being the most powerful category. Usually the numbers run from 1 to 9, but X-class flares can run higher. The highest reading recorded recently is an X28, observed in 2003.