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What is it?

What is it?

Solar flares

DANIEL BUENOSome people interpret solar flares as the promise of annihilation of the Earth. Actually, however, it is a common phenomenon that happens daily when the Sun is more active, and every week during its calm phase.

A solar flare is a sudden release of energy that last seconds and occurs in sunspots, which researchers call active regions. Here, there is a concentration of energy stored in plasma, which is comprised of particles, mainly electrons, confined in a magnetic structure. Instability in these areas can trigger a flare, giving rise to electromagnetic radiation.

Flares also eject particles into the interplanetary environment and they can be weak, or strong enough to reach the Earth. For example, their effects can block radio communication for a few moments, or interrupt the functioning of satellites such as those connected with GPS positioning or clock synchronization. The phenomenon is also tied to our planet’s environment: more rain clouds may form during periods when there are few flares.

Flares are cyclical and peak every 11 years. The next peak is due around 2015, but the current cycle is exceptionally calm and weaker than the previous one. Therefore, some researchers believe that the Earth may be about to enter a colder spell.

Pierre Kaufmann, from Mackenzie Presbyterian University