Solar Flare Observations Provide Astronomers With Data As New Eruption Unfolds

Two solar flares from the sun are being studied by astronomers to learn how this process takes place, just as a dramatic third event takes place. Together, these observations could assist astronomers studying the process by which these phenomenon form.

Astronomers using the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) observed the newest flare, providing stunning new images.

"This flare came from an area of complex magnetic activity on the sun - known as an active region, and in this case labeled Active Region 2529 - which has sported a large dark spot, called a sunspot, over the past several days. This sunspot has changed shape and size as it slowly made its way across the sun's face," Karen Fox wrote for NASA.

Solar flares are powerful bursts of energy which radiate from the surface of the sun. When these intense beams of energy strike the Earth, they can interact with our planet's magnetic field and atmosphere to produce lights at the north and south poles.

Astronomers are still uncertain exactly what causes these events. However, the most popular theory is that a process called magnetic reconnection takes place, converting magnetic energy into light. New high-resolution images recorded an eruption in 2015, showing details of a current sheet, providing evidence for the currently-accepted theory. These new observations are the most detailed images ever seen of the formation of solar flares, researchers report.

Coronal rain was observed by astronomers as plasma fell from above the surface of the sun onto our parent star, where the phenomenon resulted in massive explosions. An eruption from 2013 is also supplying researchers with valuable information.

"We can now observe in very fine detail how energy is transported in solar flares, in this case from the corona where it has been stored to the lower chromosphere tens of thousands of miles below it, where most of the energy is finally converted into heat and radiated away," said Ju Jing, a physics researcher from the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT).

On April 17, a sunspot five times the size of Earth resulted in a massive solar flare. This mid-sized flare, classified as M6.7, was roughly 10 percent as powerful as the most energetic variety, X-class flares. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued a "moderate radio blackout" warning when the event took place. This event is unlikely to have a major impact on our planet.

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