Solar Flares and Coronal Mass Ejections

Introduction

A Solar Flare is a sudden flash of light occurring on the Sun’s surface. The Sun ejects charged particles and ions into space at the speed of light. These flares produce Electromagnetic radiation on various wavelengths.

A Coronal Mass Ejection or CME is the sudden release of a giant clouds of plasma from the Sun. CMEs can either happen at the same time or after a Solar Flare. These CMEs travel significantly slower than solar flares (up to few million kilometres an hour).

How are they caused?

Both phenomena are caused by the sudden twisting or change in shape of the Sun’s magnetic field. The magnetic field of the Sun stores magnetic energy. When these magnetic fields twist or rearrange themselves, they release their magnetic energy in the form of thermal and kinetic energy. This energy accelerates particles out into space.

Differences between CMEs and Solar Flares

The differences are simple. CME and Solar flares are both caused by changes in magnetic fields, but the differences are in their constituents and how they travel.

  • CME is a huge mass of plasma. A Solar Flare is a flash of light.
  • CMEs travel at a slower speed relative to Solar flares. They may reach Earth in upto 3 days. Solar Flares travel close to the speed of light and reach eart in 8 minutes.
  • CMEs travel in one direction. Solar flares can be observed from any position close to the Sun.

How will they affect Earth?

Solar flares: Solar flares will may affect GPS Satellites and communication satellites. The upper atmosphere of the Earth is also affected by the Solar Flares and create slight transmission problems.

CMEs: CMEs distort the Earth’s magnetic field and force charged particles towards the poles which interact with the layers of the atmosphere and cause auroras.

CMEs can severely affect the Earths magnetic field and cause failure of power grids and other modern technologies that are dear to mankind. All communications, satellites etc will be gone. The civilisation may take decades to recover.

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