Solar Flares: What Are They?

There is no shortage of solar energy in the Philippines since the sun is out all the time. However, just because the sun is out and shining, doesn’t mean we can actually look at it the way we admire the moon at night; and just because we can’t actually see what’s going on on the sun’s surface with our naked eye the way we can see the craters on the moon, it doesn’t mean nothing is happening there. A lot is actually happening there.

One of the things that happen on the surface of the sun is a solar flare. In other stars, these flares are called stellar flares

Solar flares

Solar flares happen when magnetic energy is built up and suddenly released into the solar atmosphere which results in a flash of brightness, like a whip cracking, on the surface of the sun. These solar flares are made up of atoms, electrons, and ions, which are released into the corona, the outermost layer of the atmosphere of the sun which can be seen by the naked eye during solar eclipses. Solar flares are caused by the interaction of charged particles with plasma. These charged particles of magnetic energy move in loops, turns into kinetic energy, and is released when the energy is built up. These flares usually occur on the most active parts of the sun where magnetic fields are much stronger. They also happen in all layers of the atmosphere of the sun. Plasma is heated to millions of Kelvin, and the charge of ions can go as fast as the speed of light.

Effects of Solar flares on earth

When solar flares are released by the sun, the flares release clouds of particles which reach Earth in about two days. Because the Earth is protected by the atmosphere and magnetic fields, these harmful clouds full of radiation can’t reach her children. These clouds from the sun are full of charged particles and radiation, primarily x-rays. Other types of radiation that flares produce are gamma rays, and radiation from across the electromagnetic spectrum.

The atmosphere stops these clouds and radiation from reaching the surface of the Earth, but they do disturb the ionosphere which also disturbs the communication. These clouds also carry with them ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which makes it more difficult for satellites to stay on orbit, meaning their life is reduced.

These flares can also cause geomagnetic storms. Geomagnetic storms happen when flares from the sun disturb the Earth’s magnetosphere. These storms can cause errors in the information provided by global positioning systems and cause disturbances and can change the pathways of radio signals, and other navigational systems such as the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS), and can harm power grids that rely on geomagnetically induced currents. Even though these storms sound quite frightening, they do cause some beautiful auroras.

Don’t underestimate the star closest to us! Sure the sun is beautiful and helps life thrive on earth, but it can also be terrifying for he can take that life, too. Remember to wear sunblock every day!