What are Solar Flares? Know about high-speed winds burning at 100 million Kelvin

Multiple solar flares have impacted Earth this year. But do you know what solar flares are and what causes them? Read on to find out.

| Updated on: Aug 29 2022, 19:30 IST
NASA: From Solar Winds, Solar Flares to CME, check how solar phenomena impact Earth
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1/5 The harrowing thing is that it will not just be China that would be affected by such a devastating solar storm. (NASA)
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2/5 Solar Flares: Solar flares are photon flares emitted from the Sun which travel from the flare site. They are rated on the basis of their intensity with the highest being an X-rated solar flare. It can cause power and radio blackouts and are responsible for the stunning phenomenon known to us as the Northern Lights or Auroras. (NASA/SDO)
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3/5 Coronal Mass Ejections (CME): CMEs are massive plasma clouds carrying photons that are ejected from the Sun. CME occurs during the solar cycle and is at peak in the middle of the cycle. (NASA)
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4/5 Solar Winds: Solar winds are high speed winds coming from holes in the Sun called Coronal holes. These holes can form anywhere on the surface of the Sun. If these solar winds prevail near the solar equator, they can cause impact on Earth, according to NASA. (Pixabay)
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5/5 Solar Energetic Particles: Solar energetic particles are emitted from the Sun during Coronal Mass Ejections. These are charged particles; hence they follow the magnetic field lines between the Sun and the Earth and if they pass the magnetic fields near Earth, they have an impact. (NASA)
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Solar flares are released from sunspots on the surface of the Sun as a result of Coronal Mass Ejections. (Pixabay)

Earth is being bombarded with solar flares this year as the Sun is in the peak of its 11-year solar cycle. This has resulted in more frequent solar eruptions resulting in more solar flares sent hurtling towards Earth. Solar flares can reach temperatures up to 100 million degrees Kelvin and have the potential to cause power grid failures, blackouts and GPS crashes.

What are Solar Flares?

According to NASA, Solar flares are photon flares emitted from the Sun which travel from the flare site. They are rated on the basis of their intensity with the highest being an X-rated solar flare. Solar Flares occur due to Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) on the surface of the Sun which sends charged photon particles hurtling towards Earth.

A single solar flare has the capacity of 2.5 million nuclear bombs. NASA says, “There are typically three stages to a solar flare. First is the precursor stage, where the release of magnetic energy is triggered. Soft x-ray emission is detected in this stage. In the second or impulsive stage, protons and electrons are accelerated to energies exceeding 1 MeV. During the impulsive stage, radio waves, hard x-rays, and gamma rays are emitted. The gradual build up and decay of soft x-rays can be detected in the third, decay stage. The duration of these stages can be as short as a few seconds or as long as an hour.”

Can solar flares cause damage?

As a solar flare hits the Earth, it interacts with Earth's magnetic field and causes the formation of Geomagnetic storms. When a solar flare hits the Earth, the radio communications and the power grid is affected when it hits the Earth's magnetic field. It can cause radio blackouts for several hours or even days.

A strong solar flare can also cause the change in migration patterns of birds, whales and even bees. Since birds rely on magnetic fields of the Earth for navigation, their migration pattern gets affected as the end of the 11-year solar cycle results in the North and South poles switching.

Geomagnetic storms, formed due to solar flare impact, can bring about shifting curtains of light in greens, blues and pinks which light up the night sky in the Northern and Southern poles. They are called Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis in the North Pole and Southern Lights or Aurora Australis in the South Pole.

The frequency of solar flares is set to increase in the coming years as the Sun reaches the peak of its solar cycle, likely to be around 2025.

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First Published Date: 29 Aug, 19:30 IST