Solar Flares & CMEs

A solar flare is an explosion on the surface of the Sun that ejects streams of matter and electromagnetic radiation into space. It can take 2-3 days for the charged particles to reach Earth.

Coronal Mass Ejections were first observed by spacecraft in the 1970s. They are huge bubbles of charged particles ejected from the Sun over several hours, and can be associated with solar flares, but not always.

Image at left: a 'smaller' CME compared in size to Earth.

Solar flares and CMEs can be followed by streams of high-speed particles, called X-ray photons. 'Photon storms' have been known to reach Earth in as little as 15 minutes, and in 2001, the Mars Global Surveyor detected them just minutes after the flares struck Earth. Watch a series of CMEs closely followed by proton storms.

Unprotected humans on Mars, in space, or even in high-altitude aircraft are at risk from radiation damage; energetic protons can pass through the human body causing biochemical damage.

Watch a video from NASA, Extreme Solar Flares, and note the charged particles sweeping through the solar system, past the outer planets to the Voyager space probes currently exploring the edge of the solar system at the outer limits of the heliosphere.

See amazing images of a solar flare and CME recorded on June 7, 2011.

Watch a video (no sound) about a Coronal Mass Ejection interacting with Earth's magnetic field.

The charged particles from solar flares and CMEs include X-rays and UV radiation, which can disrupt communications and damage satellites.

You can read about the March 1989 geomagnetic storm that caused an electrical blackout in Canada.