Solar flare, coronal mass ejection, solar storm - what are they and how do they differ? NASA tells us | Tech News

Solar flare, coronal mass ejection, solar storm - what are they and how do they differ? NASA tells us

With solar activity intensifying as the Sun goes through its 11-year cycle, terms like solar flare, coronal mass ejection (CME) and solar storm are heard everywhere. But what are they and how are they different from one another? Find out how NASA explains it.

| Updated on: Aug 22 2022, 12:40 IST
Solar flare
Have you ever heard terms like solar flare, coronal mass ejection (CME), solar storm and found yourself confused at what these terms meant? Don’t worry, NASA explains it all. (Pixabay)

We keep hearing reports that solar activity is increasing and the solar maximum is approaching. And in these reports, oftentimes there are mentions of a solar flare, solar storm, coronal mass ejection (CME) and similar terms which can appear quite confusing. It doesn't help that the terms themselves are so similar, that to the unversed it may just sound like the same thing. However, in reality, these are completely different terms and they play their own role during the various stages of solar activity. So, if you have ever wanted to understand these terms in a simple but efficient manner, NASA will come to your rescue with its definitions. Read on to check it out. Also read: Historic! Closest-ever Sun photo captured

But before that, there is a reason why these terms are surfacing online more frequently than before. The Sun is nearing the solar maximum phase of its solar cycle. A solar cycle is approximately an 11-year period during which the Sun undergoes two specific phases with regards to the solar activity. The first is solar maximum. As the name suggests, solar maximum is the point when solar activities are at their highest. The other is solar minimum, when the solar activities are at their lowest. Solar activity refers to the spontaneous explosions that take place on the surface of the Sun around its unstable regions called sunspots.

What is solar flare

The NASA Heliopedia describes solar flares as “energetic bursts of light and particles triggered by the release of magnetic energy on the Sun''. Solar flares are also the most powerful explosions in the solar system, with the energy released being comparable to billions of Hydrogen bombs. Solar flares are seen in the unstable region of the Sun known as sunspots. Also read: A solar storm THIS big can destroy power grids in China

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What is Coronal Mass Ejection

The coronal mass ejections or CME are large clouds of solar plasma and embedded magnetic fields released into space after a solar eruption. While solar flares also release similar magnetic fields, the major difference between the discharges is their speed. While solar flares travel extremely fast and can reach the Earth within 8 minutes, CMEs move at a slower speed of around 3,000 kilometers per second. They can take between 15 to 18 hours to reach the Earth. CMEs are formed due to realignment of the Sun's magnetic field, known as magnetic reconnection.

What is solar storm

According to NASA, solar storms are the endpoint of all solar activities that impact the Earth. When the strong electromagnetic fields released from solar flares or CMEs reach our planet, its magnetic field collide with Earth's magnetic field and as a result, it causes radiation and heat in the upper atmosphere to increase sharply. The magnetic fields also impact the visible light in higher latitudes of Earth and can cause the fascinating aurora lights.

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First Published Date: 27 May, 11:19 IST