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2012: The year in space (36 images)

From Solar storms to the retiring of the Shuttles "Atlantis" and "Discovery", this constantly updated collection features the top space news photos of 2012.
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The sun erupted with one of the largest solar flares of this solar cycle on March 6, 2012. This flare was categorized as an X5.4, making it the second largest flare -- after an X6.9 on August 9, 2011. The current increase in the number of X-class flares is part of the sunÕs normal 11-year solar cycle, during which activity on the sun ramps up to solar maximum, which is expected to peak in late 2013. The solar storm is now hitting Earth and may cause disruptions to satellites, communications and power grids. UPI/NASA/SDO/AIA..
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