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What is a Solar Flare – Dangers of Solar Flares

Solar flares have been a regular topic on the news for the last couple of years. Reports of solar flares seem to be more abundant than years gone by. The interest has definitely increased lately especially with all of the 2012 fear mongers preaching the end of the world using the Mayan calendar as their proof, well supposed proof. Unfortunately we cannot go back in time to ask the Mayans why they ended their calendar on December 21, 2012.

Recent solar flare activity has caused some concern among the general public because of this. Most people don’t even know what a solar flare is or understands the real dangers of solar flares. You need to know what a solar flare is, what the sun is made of and how solar flares can affect the earth before deciding if you should be concerned or not.

First of all, the whole rise of popularity with solar flares would not be possible without the sun. A quick and easy to explanation of what the sun is would be that our sun is primarily made up of Hydrogen (about 74%) and Helium (about 24%). The rest of the sun is carbon, calcium, chromium, Iron, magnesium, nickel, neon, silicon and sulphur. All of these elements equal 1% of the sun and the remaining 1% is actually oxygen. The sun has layers which were created because the pressures within the sun increase as you move towards its middle causing the layers. The layers also move and because of this scientists are able to track sunspots to record the speed the outer layer is moving. The temperature of the Sun’s core is around 13,600,000 kelvin degress, the surface of the Sun is approximately 6000 Kelvin degrees. The atmosphere of the sun called the chromosphere heats up to 100,000 Kelvin.

Solar flares which occur on the surface of the Sun are massive explosions that happen when there is a buildup of magnetic energy and there is know where for the gas to go but outward. Solar flares happen in the areas of sunspots (Sunspots are areas of the Sun where the magnetic field is stronger than other areas. Sunspots are more apparent when there is intense magnetic activity occurring in the Sun. The more spots there are on the Sun means that there will be more solar flares occuring) where there is a division of magnetic polarity. Solar flares/explosions typically include a coronal mass ejection which originates from the outer corona region of the Sun. The magnetized gas can easily equal the intensity of a billion hydrogen bombs. The explosion and gas travel outward from the Sun at a million miles an hour or 1.6 million kilometers an hour. These explosions can reach Earth in less than a day or take a few days depending on the size. That is the easiest way to describe a solar flare.

If a solar flare explodes towards Earth there are definitely some dangers. If the Suns ejection hits Earth you can expect there to be a disturbance in the magnetic field which is called a geomagnetic storm, you have probably heard of them. Geomagnetic storms can cause power outages and knock out radio communications. Satellites orbiting Earth can be disrupted and even put out of commission from a solar flare. If a solar flare were large enough and hit the Earth it could very well disrupt everything electronic. If everything electronic was shut down for a day days or even weeks just imagine the chaos. Banks, the internet, satellites, phones, everything a modern society uses would be useless causing chaos and mayhem all over.

The dangers of radio activity affecting us, is mostly unlikely here on Earth’s surface. Astronauts however could be seriously harmed. The way I see it is that the Earth has been around for over 4 billion years and there hasn’t been a solar flare that has wiped us out yet so the chances are that it won’t be happening in the future. Of course I could be totally wrong and it could happen tomorrow but my bet is on it never happening, regardless of what some people think the Mayan calendar predicts.


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