Solar storms are waves of radiation emitted from the Sun that travel through space. The radiation from these storms can have a range of effects, including disrupting satellites in space, power grids on Earth and navigation systems. Earth’s atmosphere protects humans from the radiation, but astronauts in space are at risk during solar storm activity.
Solar storms are often caused by solar flares or coronal mass ejections (CMEs). Solar flares are explosions on the surface of the Sun, often occurring near sunspots (shifting fields of magnetic energy). These flares can release as much energy as a billion megatons of TNT (1 megaton = 1,000 tons of TNT), and release various forms of energy, including gamma and x-rays.
Coronal mass ejections are bursts of energy released from the sun over a number of hours, and occur when the Sun’s magnetic field and outer solar atmosphere get too close. CMEs are often associated with solar flare activity, but can occur independently of solar flares.
Solar storms, along with solar flares and coronal mass ejections, are tracked by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Weather Service. You can get daily space weather forecasts the NOAA website.
(Source: NASA; Photo courtesy of NOAA)
(Text by Noel Kirkpatrick)