Solar flares increase in appearances, intensity

Aug 07, 2012
NASA’s prediction of the monthly sunspot numbers (where solar flares come from) through the next cycle finds a maximum of about 60 sunspots in the Spring of 2013

(Phys.org) -- Increased numbers of solar flares have become common at the moment, as the sun’s normal 11-year activity cycle is ramping up.

In July, the sun emitted its strongest solar flare of the summer, causing vivid aurora borealis, or northern lights, in parts of southern Canada and northern United States. Also in July, the sun emitted a medium-intensity flare believed to be the reason for India’s worst power outage in history.

According to James R. Webb, astronomy professor in the Department of Physics, solar flares are a pretty common occurrence, typically occurring in cycles. The current cycle is expected to peak in 2013.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.

“A magnetic disturbance in the sends a stream of high-energy charged off into space at high velocities,” Webb said. “Only a small portion of these particles actually hits Earth, most go off into space away from Earth.”

But, can really cause serious damage here on Earth?

“Sometimes the flare is so strong, that it totally fills the Earth’s radiation belts and the particles can enter the atmosphere at much lower latitudes and even hit Earth itself,” Webb said. “In these cases, the worse that happens is some electrical circuits get short-circuited and go offline.”

Of the particles that do interact with Earth, most are trapped in the Earth’s radiation belts and actually make their way to the polar latitudes (Canada, Siberia, Alaska) in the northern hemisphere and enter the atmosphere causing northern lights, Webb said. The particles going south enter the atmosphere in Antarctica causing southern lights.

“If the latest outbursts are pointed toward , we might see some of the effects, but they are not devastating and will certainly happen again in the future,” Webb said.

Explore further: Some astronauts at risk for cognitive impairment, animal studies suggest

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

NASA sees Sun send out mid-level solar flare

Jul 19, 2012

The sun emitted a mid-level solar flare on July 19, 2012, beginning at 1:13 AM EDT and peaking at 1:58 AM. Solar flares are gigantic bursts of radiation that cannot pass through Earth's atmosphere to harm ...

Space Image: Sunspots and solar flares

Mar 21, 2012

(PhysOrg.com) -- NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) captured this image of an M7.9 class flare on March 13, 2012 at 1:29 p.m. EDT. It is shown here in the 131 Angstrom wavelength, a wavelength particularly ...

The Sun blasts out an X1-Class solar flare

Jul 09, 2012

An active region on the Sun, AR1515, has been putting on quite a show over the last 8 days, sending out all sorts of solar flares. Scientists were sure the huge sunspot was building up to produce an X-class ...

Earth-facing sunspot doubles in size

Feb 13, 2012

The latest sunspot region to traverse the face of the Sun has nearly doubled in size as it aims Earthward, as seen in the animation above from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. (Click image to play the ...

Solar flares: What does it take to be X-class?

Aug 10, 2011

Solar flares are giant explosions on the sun that send energy, light and high speed particles into space. These flares are often associated with solar magnetic storms known as coronal mass ejections (CMEs). ...

Recommended for you

First-of-its-kind NASA space-weather project

3 hours ago

A NASA scientist is launching a one-to-two-year pilot project this summer that takes advantage of U.S. high-voltage power transmission lines to measure a phenomenon that has caused widespread power outages ...

How many moons does Venus have?

10 hours ago

There are dozens upon dozens of moons in the Solar System, ranging from airless worlds like Earth's Moon to those with an atmosphere (most notably, Saturn's Titan). Jupiter and Saturn have many moons each, ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

First-of-its-kind NASA space-weather project

A NASA scientist is launching a one-to-two-year pilot project this summer that takes advantage of U.S. high-voltage power transmission lines to measure a phenomenon that has caused widespread power outages ...

How many moons does Venus have?

There are dozens upon dozens of moons in the Solar System, ranging from airless worlds like Earth's Moon to those with an atmosphere (most notably, Saturn's Titan). Jupiter and Saturn have many moons each, ...