Subscribe free to our newsletters via your
. 24/7 Space News .

CME Week: The Difference Between Flares and CMEs
by Staff Writers
Greenbelt MD (SPX) Sep 25, 2014

How do you tell the difference between a flare and a CME in NASA images? Flares look like bright flashes of light on the sun. Coronal mass ejections look like clouds zooming out into space. Image courtesy NASA/SDO/ESA/SOHO/Nune. View a video on the research here.

There are many kinds of eruptions on the sun. Solar flares and coronal mass ejections both involve gigantic explosions of energy, but are otherwise quite different. The two phenomena do sometimes occur at the same time - indeed the strongest flares are almost always correlated with coronal mass ejections - but they emit different things, they look and travel differently, and they have different effects near planets.

Both eruptions are created when the motion of the sun's interior contorts its own magnetic fields. Like the sudden release of a twisted rubber band, the magnetic fields explosively realign, driving vast amounts of energy into space. This phenomenon can create a sudden flash of light -- a solar flare. Flares can last minutes to hours and they contain tremendous amounts of energy.

Traveling at the speed of light, it takes eight minutes for the light from a solar flare to reach Earth. Some of the energy released in the flare also accelerates very high energy particles that can reach Earth in tens of minutes.

The magnetic contortions can also create a different kind of explosion that hurls solar matter into space. These are the coronal mass ejections, also known as CMEs. One can think of the explosions using the physics of a cannon. The flare is like the muzzle flash, which can be seen anywhere in the vicinity.

The CME is like the cannonball, propelled forward in a single, preferential direction, this mass ejected from the barrel only affecting a targeted area. This is the CME-an immense cloud of magnetized particles hurled into space.

Traveling over a million miles per hour, the hot material called plasma takes up to three days to reach Earth. The differences between the two types of explosions can be seen through solar telescopes, with flares appearing as a bright light and CMEs appearing as enormous fans of gas swelling into space.

Flares and CMEs have different effects at Earth as well. The energy from a flare can disrupt the area of the atmosphere through which radio waves travel. This can lead to degradation and, at worst, temporary blackouts in navigation and communications signals.

On the other hand, CMEs can funnel particles into near-Earth space. A CME can jostle Earth's magnetic fields creating currents that drive particles down toward Earth's poles. When these react with oxygen and nitrogen, they help create the aurora, also known as the Northern and Southern Lights. Additionally, the magnetic changes can affect a variety of human technologies.

High frequency radio waves can be degraded: Radios transmit static, and GPS coordinates stray by a few yards. The magnetic oscillations can also create electrical currents in utility grids on Earth that can overload electrical systems when power companies are not prepared.

One thing is the same about flares and CMEs: A fleet of NASA heliophysics observatories in space are always on the watch for these explosions. Much like how we forecast thunderstorms and rain showers, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Space Weather Prediction Center runs simulations and can make predictions about when the CME will arrive at Earth based on this and other data.

They then alert appropriate groups so that power companies, airlines, and other stakeholders can take precautions in the event of a solar storm. For example, if a strong CME is on its way-utility companies can redirect power loads to protect the grids.

NASA's heliophysics spacecraft observe flares and CMEs for another reason as well. Scientists want to understand exactly what causes these powerful explosions and some day predict them even before they erupt.


Related Links
CME Week
Solar Science News at SpaceDaily

Comment on this article via your Facebook, Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail login.

Share this article via these popular social media networks DiggDigg RedditReddit GoogleGoogle

Memory Foam Mattress Review
Newsletters :: SpaceDaily :: SpaceWar :: TerraDaily :: Energy Daily
XML Feeds :: Space News :: Earth News :: War News :: Solar Energy News

PPPL scientists take key step toward solving a major astrophysical mystery
Princeton NJ (SPX) Sep 12, 2014
Magnetic reconnection can trigger geomagnetic storms that disrupt cell phone service, damage satellites and black out power grids. But how reconnection, in which the magnetic field lines in plasma snap apart and violently reconnect, transforms magnetic energy into explosive particle energy remains a major unsolved problem in plasma astrophysics. Magnetic field lines represent the direction, and ... read more

Russia to Launch Full-Scale Moon Exploration Next Decade

Lunar explorers will walk at higher speeds than thought

Year's final supermoon is a Harvest Moon

China Aims for the Moon, Plans to Bring Back Lunar Soil

Why India went to Mars

Back to Driving

India Mars mission enters orbit

India wins Asia's Mars race as spacecraft enters orbit

NASA technologies to be studied for commercialization

NASA Seeks Best and Brightest for Space Technology Fellowships

Midland International Receives FAA Spaceport License Approval

Japanese Firm Plans Space Elevator to Run by 2050

Astronauts eye China's future space station

China eyes working with other nations as station plans develop

China completes construction of advanced space launch facility

China to launch second space lab in 2016: official

Halfway through Blue Dot mission

Yeast, the final frontier

SpaceX cargo ship arrives at International Space Station

ISS Crew Trains to Capture Dragon

Soyuz Rocket Awaiting Launch at Baikonur Cosmodrome

Elon Musk, Rick Perry attend groundbreaking for Texas spaceport

France raises heat on decision for next Ariane rocket

SpaceX is not only taking a 3D printer to space, but mice too

Distant planet's atmosphere shows evidence of water vapor

Chandra Finds Planet That Makes Star Act Deceptively Old

Solar System Simulation Reveals Planetary Mystery

'Hot Jupiters' provoke their own host suns to wobble

Mussel-inspired MIT glue may have naval, medical applications

Larry Ellison releases helm of mighty Oracle ship

'Priceless' 600-tonne jade deposit found in China

NASA Awards Cross-track Infrared Sounder For JPS System-2 Bird

The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2014 - Space Media Network. All websites are published in Australia and are solely subject to Australian law and governed by Fair Use principals for news reporting and research purposes. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA news reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. Advertising does not imply endorsement, agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. Privacy Statement All images and articles appearing on Space Media Network have been edited or digitally altered in some way. Any requests to remove copyright material will be acted upon in a timely and appropriate manner. Any attempt to extort money from Space Media Network will be ignored and reported to Australian Law Enforcement Agencies as a potential case of financial fraud involving the use of a telephonic carriage device or postal service.