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THE Sun has been emitting a lot of solar flares recently but the bursts of radiation aren’t as scary as they sound.
Eruptions on the solar surface can launch some of the Sun’s plasma toward Earth and that has both positive and negative effects.
What is a solar flare?
Solar flares are bursts of radiation from the Sun that sometimes hit Earth or shoot into deep space.
Nasa explains: “A solar flare is an intense burst of radiation coming from the release of magnetic energy associated with sunspots.”
Adding: “Flares are also sites where particles (electrons, protons, and heavier particles) are accelerated.”
Solar flares can last just minutes or shoot out streams of radiation for hours.
Are solar flares dangerous?
The good news is that Earth largely protects us from the damaging impact of solar flares by using its magnetic field.
They’re not threatening to the health of humans on Earth but sometimes pose a threat to astronaut safety.
They can impact satellite communications as well as cause radio blackouts.
In 1989, a strong solar eruption shot so many electrically charged particles at Earth that the Canadian Province of Quebec lost power for nine hours.
Communications usually return to normal once a solar storm is over.
One good thing about solar storms is that they can produce very pretty natural light displays like the Northern Lights.
They’re not always good news for migratory animals that rely on Earth’s magnetic field for navigation.
Creatures that do this include some birds, sharks, and sea turtles.
Why do solar flares keep hitting Earth?
It’s not unusual for a solar flare to hit Earth.
The frequency of hits depends on how the Sun is behaving.
It can range from one solar flare a week to several a day.
The Sun is at the start of its 11-year cycle and in a very active phase.
That means we’re currently seeing more frequent solar flares.
Around every 11 years, the magnetic field on the Sun flips.
That means the north and south poles switch and this can cause the Sun to behave erratically before settling down.
Once it settles, the magnetic field flips and the cycle begins again.