Mysterious ‘sparks’ on the sun could help scientists predict solar flares

 Solar flares, powerful bursts of radiation from the sun, are often preceded by a pre-flare spark, scientists have discovered. The finding could lead to better predictions of solar storms, which can disrupt power grids and communications systems on Earth.

The scientists made the discovery after digging into years of data from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), a satellite that’s been observing the sun since 2010. Since the 1970s and ’80s, researchers had witnessed these pre-flare flashes, using tools such as ground-based observatories, so there was a lot of anecdotal evidence that the flashes and flares were related, KD Leka (opens in new tab), a senior research scientist at NorthWest Research Associates (NWRA) in Boulder, Colorado, told Live Science. But those researchers didn’t have instruments like SDO, which is constantly watching and recording the sun’s activity from space. 

“Images of [the sun] have definitely been helping scientists and forecasters understand when an active region is likely to be flare-productive,” Leka said. 

Two images of a solar active region taken by SDO/AIA show extreme-ultraviolet light produced by million-degree-hot coronal gas (top images) on the day before the region flared (left) and the day before it stayed quiet and did not flare (right). The changes in brightness (bottom images) at these two times show different patterns, with patches of intense variation (black & white areas) before the flare (bottom left) and mostly gray (indicating low variability) before the quiet period (bottom right). (Image credit: NASA/SDO/AIA/Dissauer et al. 2022)

Comments are closed.