March 9th ended with a powerful solar flare. Earth-orbiting satellites detected an X1.5-class explosion from behemoth sunspot 1166 around 2323 UT. A movie from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory shows a bright flash of UV radiation plus some material being hurled away from the blast site:

A first look at coronagraph images from NASA's STEREO-B spacecraft suggests that the explosion did propel a coronal mass ejection (CME) toward Earth. This conclusion is preliminary, however, so check back later for updates.

After four years without any X-flares, the sun has produced two of the powerful blasts in less than one month: Feb. 15th and March 9th. This continues the recent trend of increasing solar activity, and shows that Solar Cycle 24 is heating up. NOAA forecasters estimate a 5% chance of more X-flares during the next 24 hours.