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What are Solar Flares and do they affect the Earth?

Most of us are familiar with the fact that the Earth has a magnetic field. Most of us have used this field to determine the direction we are going in. Still, this magnetic field that the Earth protects us from has dangerous high-frequency electromagnetic radiation like X-rays and Gamma rays.

Solar flares cause these high-frequency radiations. A solar flare is caused due to twisted magnetic field lines that are formed due to the rotation of the sun. These field lines are like stretched rubber bands. Once they get twisted enough, large amounts of magnetic energy are released, which mainly consists of electromagnetic radiation and charged particles. These charged particles are responsible for the beautiful Aurora Borealis, also known as Northern Lights.

Types of solar flares

There are four main categories of solar flares, namely B, C, M, and X rated flares.

  • X rated flares are the strongest and can do a lot of damage to satellites and power grids if they are directed towards the Earth. They are approximately ten times stronger than M class flares.
  • Class B solar flares are the weakest and do not do much damage to satellite communications and are not noticeable on the Earth.
  • C class flares are ten times stronger than the B class. They can cause radio blackouts at the poles. They may cause minor radiation storms that could harm astronauts.
  • M class flares are ten times stronger than C class flares which can cause power outages at the poles and solar storms which might affect satellites.

If you check out more detailed data pertaining to these flares here 

When there is a shift from one category to the other, there is a ten-fold increase in energy radiated. Solar flares are measured in terms or ergs, and a usual solar flare is of the order 10^30 ergs. They are visible in white light, but for better imaging of these flares, ultraviolet sensors are used.

Also read: 5 effects of space on the human body

How solar radiation affects us?

Even though we are protected from this solar radiation due to the Earth’s magnetic field, due to a weaker magnetic field at the poles, radio communication can be disrupted due to these flares. These solar flares mostly disrupt communication satellites. The magnetic radiation released by solar flares interacts with the ionosphere, which causes an error in communication with GPS satellites.

Apart from that, solar flares are detrimental to humans as well. Solar flares are known to cause cancer, eye, and skin damage. This is the reason why the WHO has recommended to wear sunglasses that filter out harmful UV radiation.

Sometimes these solar flares are accompanied by coronal mass ejections (CMEs), which cause power loss in a large area. One such incident occurred in 1989 in Quebec, Canada.

Also read: What are Potentially Hazardous Asteroids?

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