Solar Storms

The magnetic energy stored in active regions on the Sun can be released rapidly. These solar storms are the most energetic events in the Solar System.

Solar Flares

Solar flares are enormous explosions in the atmosphere of the Sun. They release energy that is stored in coronal loops. The released energy is converted to light, heat, and the movement of large amounts of plasma near the Sun. A flare begins when the magnetic field begins to quickly stretch and eventually snaps in a process called magnetic reconnection. This accelerates plasma along the field lines to high speeds. When the coronal material crashes into the denser material in the Sun’s chromosphere it heats up and releases light across the electromagnetic spectrum, including X-rays and even gamma rays in the most violent flares. Some gamma rays come from the production and annihilation of antimatter during the flare.

Prominence Eruptions

Giant magnetic loops of matter from the Sun’s photosphere lofted high up into the corona, called prominences, can persist for over a month. But, sometimes they become unstable and erupt. The instability can be caused by solar flares or other disturbances in the solar atmosphere. Often the billions of tons of material lost during the eruption will blast away from the Sun in a coronal mass ejection.

Coronal Mass Ejections

When matter is ejected from the Sun’s corona we call the event a coronal mass ejection, or CME. CMEs happen when a large magnetic field loop becomes unstable and begins to rapidly grow and grow, opening up into the solar wind and releasing billions of tons of matter into interplanetary space. The ejection is often so fast that it can create a shock wave in the solar wind. The shock wave can accelerate solar wind particles to speeds close to the speed of light, turning them into dangerous radiation. CMEs are often triggered by solar flares or prominence eruptions, but not always.