Solar Flares, Solar Prominences & Coronal Mass Ejections

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson will go over three events caused by magnetic interactions in our Sun. They are prominences, flares, and coronal mass ejections. We'll also touch base on how the latter two can affect life on Earth.

The Sun's Effects on Earth

The Sun quite obviously has an effect on Earth. It provides us with sunlight, which is good for much more than a tan. Sunlight helps plants grow. Those plants are then eaten by animals that we then rely on for everything from food to leather and glue.

But the Sun does have a bit of a wicked side. Every now and then it produces magnetic solar phenomena that hurt our way of life on Earth. How this is so and what these magnetic phenomena are, you'll learn very shortly.

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  • 0:01 The Sun's Effects on Earth
  • 0:32 Prominence and Filaments
  • 1:12 Solar Flares
  • 2:26 Coronal Mass Ejections
  • 3:25 Lesson Summary
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Prominence and Filaments

One of these magnetic solar phenomena is called a prominence, a bright, relatively dense, and relatively cool arched cloud of ionized gas in the chromosphere and corona of the Sun. A prominence is made of ionized gas that's ensnared by a magnetic arch, or loop, that rises up through the photosphere, then the chromosphere, and finally into the corona. Some prominences last for a few hours, while others can hang around for many months. These prominences are bright when set against the background of darker space, but a prominence, seen from above and set against the Sun's bright surface, appears as a dark filament.

Solar Flares

More profound than prominences are solar flares, which can cause electrical power surges and damage to satellites orbiting Earth. A solar flare is a sudden, brief (typically lasting only a few minutes), and explosive release of solar magnetic energy that heats and accelerates the gas in the Sun's atmosphere.

Solar flares occur in active regions of the Sun, which are areas of the Sun that house sunspot groups. Here, magnetic fields merge in such a way that they release a lot of energy in the form of high-energy protons and electrons, as well as short-wavelength photons (X-ray and UV photons). The formation of solar flares from the merging of magnetic fields is called a reconnection event.

Eight minutes after the release of these photons, they reach Earth and increase the ionization of our atmosphere. Meaning, they enhance our ionosphere. This disrupts radio communications on Earth. Days later, many particles from this flare reach Earth as part of the solar wind. They disrupt the Earth's magnetic field and consequently negatively affect navigation systems.

The most energetic of the solar flares carry more energy than a billion hydrogen bombs.

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