Solar Flares & CME's

So, what is exactly is a Solar Flare?

A solar flare is defined as a sudden, intense and explosive change in the electromagnetic energy levels of the plasmas in the upper solar atmosphere.   In other words, a solar flare is an intense electrical discharge through the plasmas of the upper solar atmosphere.  These streams of flowing electrons, and these flowing Birkeland currents of charged plasma particles, create powerful magnetic fields within the plasmas in the upper solar atmosphere.  The rapid change in the energy level within the plasma of the upper solar atmosphere results in intensely bright energy emissions across virtually the entire electromagnetic spectrum, much like they occur during lightening strikes in the Earth’s atmosphere.  These high energy electrical discharge emissions include x-rays and gamma radiation at the high end, yet these powerful bursts of emissions can also be observed in radio waves and even further into the low end of the energy spectrum.   We have observed and recorded gamma and x-ray emissions from electrical discharges here on Earth using the same Rhessi satellite which has observed gamma ray emissions from electrical discharges in the solar atmosphere.

A solar flare typically occurs when sufficient electromagnetic energy (charge variation) has built up between the sun’s outer solar sheath and the sun’s upper solar atmosphere.  The electromagnetic energy is suddenly released as an electrical discharge through the plasmas of the solar system.  Since the sun is the largest mass body in the solar system, these discharges become concentrated in the upper solar atmosphere.  The amount of energy that is released during a solar flare can exceed the equivalent of millions of 100-megaton hydrogen bombs.

One of the first modern mentions of a solar flare came on September 1, 1859 when two scientists, Richard C. Carrington and Richard Hodgson, were independently observing sunspots.  They both reported viewing a large flare in white light that day.  The electromagnetic storm that ensued caused significant damage to telegraphs operating across the US and Europe.   The largest solar flare ever recorded on video is called a “Granddaddy” (x-class) solar flare that was recorded in 1945. 

As the electromagnetic energy is released through the solar atmosphere, particles, including electrons, protons, neutrons and heavy nuclei, are “z-pinched” from the plasma, heated and accelerated towards to solar sheath.  The energy released during a typical flare is on the order of 1027 watts.  Large flares can emit up to 1032 watts of energy.  This energy is ten million times greater than the energy released from a volcanic explosion.   As impressive as that might sound, it is less than one-tenth of the total energy emitted by the Sun every second.

This is a SOHO Lasco-C3 image taken just as an actual flare began to occur.  We can already see that there is a strong flow of plasma at roughly the 4:00 position.

As the solar flare evolves, we can see that there is a strong current flow forming between the upper solar atmosphere and the heliosphere

Over time the discharge pattern forms a common filamentary pattern called a "Birkeland current".  The magnetic field and the electrical discharge are flowing along a spiraling parallel path.


As the discharge solar flare process continues, the Birkeland filament elongates and begins to spread out as it stretches towards the heliosheath.


The Surface Of The Sun
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