What is a solar flare and why do they keep hitting Earth?

THE Sun has been emitting many solar flares lately, but the bursts of radiation aren’t as scary as they sound.

Flares on the Sun’s surface can eject some of the Sun’s plasma toward Earth, with both positive and negative effects.

The Sun is about to begin its 11-year cycle and is in a very active phase


The Sun is about to begin its 11-year cycle and is in a very active phasePhoto credit: Getty

What is a solar flare?

Solar flares are bursts of radiation from the sun that sometimes hit Earth or shoot out into space.

NASA explains, “A solar flare is an intense burst of radiation produced by the release of magnetic energy associated with sunspots.”

Added: “Flares are also places where particles (electrons, protons and heavier particles) are accelerated.”

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Solar flares can last only a few minutes or emit streams of radiation for hours.

Are solar flares dangerous?

The good news is that Earth largely protects us from the damaging effects of solar flares by harnessing its magnetic field.

They do not threaten the health of people on Earth, but sometimes pose a threat to the safety of astronauts.

They can interfere with satellite communications and cause radio failures.

In 1989, a powerful solar flare shot down so many electrically charged particles that the Canadian province of Quebec was without electricity for nine hours.

Communications usually return to normal once a solar storm has passed.

One good thing about solar storms is that they can create very beautiful natural displays of light like the Northern Lights.

They’re not always good news for migratory animals that rely on the Earth’s magnetic field for navigation.

Creatures that do this include some birds, sharks, and sea turtles.

Why do solar flares keep hitting Earth?

It is not uncommon for a solar flare to hit Earth.

The frequency of hits depends on how the sun behaves.

It can range from one solar flare a week to several a day.

The Sun is at the beginning of its 11-year cycle and is in a very active phase.

This means that we are currently seeing more frequent solar flares.

About every 11 years, the sun’s magnetic field reverses.

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This means that the north and south poles are alternating and this can cause the sun to behave erratically before calming down.

Once it settles, the magnetic field reverses and the cycle begins again. What is a solar flare and why do they keep hitting Earth?

Chris Barrese

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