Thursday, 16 April 2009

A flair for Flares

This post is going to take you, Reader, to an interesting side of physics! Astrophysics is quite a fun thing to think about, if you aren’t a rocket scientist. And to be clear, my specialty is NOT Astrophysics. I am going to discuss Solar Flares. Below is an image of the magnetic fields of both the Sun and the Earth.

In order to understand solar flares though, I will go over some things to make things a bit clearer.

The first thing to know about the Sun is that it is made up of Hydrogen atoms that fuse to make Helium atoms. This creates the heat that we feel on those warm sunny days (yes, summer is right around the corner, as they say). The energy of the hydrogen molecules are so significant that the 1 proton and electron from each atom will form into a new atom. This energy is called the Heat of Fusion. The temperature of the surface of the Sun is about 5725 C.

Our Sun has 3 layers to it, the core, the surface and the radiation zone. The radiation zone is very dense. Here the electromagnetic waves are produced and the radiation can stay in this zone for millions of years. Simply put, the energy can be in a wide range of wavelengths, from x-rays (large) or Gamma Rays (small).

So what is a solar flare? It’s an extra burst of energy that gets emitted from the Sun. This sends a “wave” of radiation (UV, x-ray and Gamma) outward. These are pretty dangerous wavelengths.

So why don’t we feel it? Actually, we kind of do. Cancer is a mutation in cells genetics. This can be due to many different agents. The most prominent reagent for skin cancer is UV radiation... from the Sun. The UV index actual flexuate, due to these solar flares and you get the advisory to put on sun screen.

Another aspect that is in movies including in the new cinematic entertainment, Knowing, is wireless interference. In movies, when a solar flare occurs, it creates interference waves for all technology that uses radio waves (electromagnetic waves). As established above, Radio waves ARE emitted from the Sun. It usually affects what is known as long range radio waves. These are the x-rays, and waves that have wavelengths in decimetres. We can thank the Ionosphere for this; it cuts “blocks” the larger wavelengths from getting through. Our cell phones have an average wavelength of approximately 26 centimetres or 2.6 decimetres. Thus, a solar flare is ABLE to interfere with our cell phone signal.

But these flares occur very often. During an “active” Sun phase, the Sun could produce a solar flare every few hours. When the Sun is inactive, solar flares can be produced once a week.

Flares occur when the outer “atmosphere” of the Sun has a burst of stored magnetic energy. It’s like a water balloon; the magnetic energy fills up in a concentrated area and then bursts releasing electromagnetic waves and lot of heat.

1 comment:

Adam said...

very very cool, I even made the photo my new desktop background :)