Solar Flare vs Solar Prominence

A short video in which you can see solar flares and solar prominences occurring along the Sun’s surface.

I obviously can’t speak for anyone else, but I whole-heartedly believed that the beautiful loops of material that we sometimes see images and videos of on the Sun were included in the term ‘solar flare.’ As I looked into it, I came to find that solar flares and solar prominences (the ‘loops’) are in fact separate things.

Solar flares are sudden flashes of brightness sometimes observable on the surface of the Sun. They occur when an area of the plasma of the Sun interacts with accelerated charged particles, and the plasma is heated to tens of millions of Kelvin while ions are accelerated to nearly light speed. Flares happen in active regions (near sunspots) and occur when magnetic energy stored in the Sun’s corona is suddenly released. Flares produce electromagnetic radiation, but only some of the energy released is within the range of visible light, meaning that the majority of a solar flare is not actually visible to the naked eye. X-rays and UV rays from solar flares can have effects on Earth’s upper atmosphere, while radio emissions can disrupt Earth’s long-range communications (e.g. radar devices that depend on radio frequencies).

Solar prominences, on the other hand, are essentially loops of relatively cool plasma that form on the Sun’s surface and extend outward into the corona. They form in the magnetic fields generated by sunspots. Prominences can reach up to hundreds of thousands of miles into space and persist for several weeks or months. Some prominences may break apart and result in coronal mass ejections. {A coronal mass ejection (CME) refers to the release of a large amount of plasma and electromagnetic radiation from the solar corona into space. They often follow solar flares or other solar activity and can cause both negative effects (e.g. communications disruptions as aforementioned in the discussion of solar flares) and positive effects (e.g. auroras).}

2 thoughts on “Solar Flare vs Solar Prominence

    1. That is crazy! Seeing that CMEs can cause things like this, I wonder how/when/if we here on Earth will figure out ways to moderate (or maybe even negate) these disruptive effects.

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