Click the image to see NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory article on the event - and FRAKKING AMAZING VIDEOS.
An almost unimaginably huge mushroom of belched plasma exploded from the Sun and almost immediately plummeted back onto the surface yesterday, launching perhaps the largest amount of solar material into space ever recorded. The solar flare itself was only considered a "moderate" event (sorry, but the cell-phone network will likely survive), though the volume of the eruption was the most we've ever seen. Space observatories in the past year recorded about 70 such solar flares, each roughly ten times weaker than "extreme" flares, of which only two have occurred since 2007.
What shocked scientists was the unusual amount of material that bubbled up, expanded, and collapsed over roughly half the surface area of the Sun. The event's simultaneous launch of particles into space is called a coronal mass ejection.
"This totally caught us by surprise. There wasn't much going on with this spot, but as it came from behind the Sun, all of a sudden there was a flare and huge ejection of particles," said NASA astrophysicist Phillip Chamberlin. "We've never seen a CME this enormous." That's what she said! (Apologies, but someone had to....)