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Solar flares

2022 JAN 24

Preliminary   > Geography   >   Cosmology   >   Geophysical phenomenon

Why in news?

  • The Sun emitted a powerful solar flare, which affected the top of the Earth’s atmosphere, causing a shortwave radio blackout around the Indian Ocean.
  • The blackout might have affected radio communications of aviators and mariners for some time. In the coming days, minor geomagnetic storms are expected to hit the Earth due to storm clouds.

What is solar flare?

  • A solar flare is a tremendous explosion on the Sun that happens when energy stored in 'twisted' magnetic fields (usually above sunspots) is suddenly released.
  • In a matter of just a few minutes they heat material to many millions of degrees and produce a burst of radiation across the electromagnetic spectrum, including from radio waves to x-rays and gamma rays.


  • Solar flares pose no direct danger to humans on the Earth's surface.
  • The harmful electromagnetic radiation emitted by flares, primarily X-rays, are absorbed by the daylight side of Earth's atmosphere and do not reach the Earth's surface.
  • However, this absorption of high-energy electromagnetic radiation can temporarily increase the ionization of the upper atmosphere, which can interfere with short-wave radio communication, and can temporarily heat and expand the Earth's outer atmosphere.
  • This expansion can cause increase drag on satellites in low Earth orbit and can lead to orbital decay over time.
  • The radiation risks posed by solar flares are a major concern in discussions of a human mission to Mars, the Moon, or other planets.
  • Energetic protons can pass through the human body, causing biochemical damage, presenting a hazard to astronauts during interplanetary travel.


  • Scientists classify solar flares according to their brightness in the x-ray wavelengths. There are three categories:
  • X-class flares:
    • X-class flares are big; they are major events that can trigger radio blackouts around the whole world and long-lasting radiation storms in the upper atmosphere.
  • M-class flares:
    • M-class flares are medium-sized; they generally cause brief radio blackouts that affect Earth's Polar Regions. Minor radiation storms sometimes follow an M-class flare.
  • C-class flares:
    • Compared to X- and M-class events, C-class flares are small with few noticeable consequences here on Earth.

Solar flares v/s Coronal mass ejections:

  • Solar flares are different to Coronal Mass Ejections' (CMEs), which were once thought to be initiated by solar flares.
  • CMEs are huge bubbles of gas threaded with magnetic field lines that are ejected from the Sun over the course of several hours. Although some are accompanied by flares, it is now known that most CMEs are not associated with flares.
  • This has important implications for understanding and predicting the effects of solar activity on the Earth and in space. If a CME collides with the Earth, it can excite a geomagnetic storm. Large geomagnetic storms have, among other things, caused electrical power outages and damaged communications satellites.
  • The energetic particles driven along by CMEs can be damaging to both electronic equipment and astronauts or passengers in high-flying aircraft.
  • Solar flares, on the other hand, directly affect the ionosphere and radio communications at the Earth, and also release energetic particles into space.


Consider the following statements:

1. Solar flares can temporarily increase the ionization of the upper atmosphere

2. Solar flares pose no direct danger to humans on the Earth's surface.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

(a) 1 only

(b) 2 only

(c) Both 1 and 2

(d) Neither 1 nor 2