I guess its not surprising given the name of this site, but I get a lot of visitors looking for information on solar flares. Unfortunately, up to this point, although I do cover the odd science bit, I haven’t really posted anything about solar flares. So lets rectify that.
What are Solar Flares?
The definition of a flare is:
“A sudden, rapid, and intense variation in brightness.”
A solar flare occcurs when the magnetic energy built up in the solar atmosphere is released suddenly. This causes radiation to be emitted across the electromagnetic spectrum, all the way from radio waves to x-rays and gamma rays. The amount of energy involved in this release is the equivalent of millions of hundred megaton hydrogen bombs.
Large solar flares can emit up to 1032 ergs of energy per second. While thats less than 1/10th of the total energy emitted by the sun every second, its something like ten million times greater than the energy invovled in a volcanic erruption.
Solar flares extend out to the outermost atmosphere of the Sun called the corona. The gas in this atmosphere has a temperature of a few million degrees Kelvin, but inside a flare the temperature reaches some 10 to 20 million degrees Kelvin.
The frequency of flares coincides with the Sun’s eleven year cycle. When the solar cycle is at a minimum, active regions are small and rare and few solar flares are detected. These increase in number as the Sun approaches the maximum part of its cycle. The Sun will reach its next maximum in the year 2011 or 2012.
It is not possible to see a solar flare by staring at the Sun and you should NEVER look directly at the sun as it can cause serious eye damage.
Thank you to http://hesperia.gsfc.nasa.gov/sftheory/index.htm for the information that went into this rather basic rundown of solar flares. You can find much more detailed information on that site itself.
For the latest news on solar flares, or any othe form of solar and space events, check out SpaceWeather.comEoghann Irving is amongst other things the creator and Editor of Solar Flare. He has a life long interest in all forms of science fiction and fantasy and a pressing need to share this interest with anyone who will listen. Find out more at his personal website eoghann.com..