What are Sunspots and Solar Flares?


Sunspots manifest as darkened regions on the Sun’s surface due to their relatively lower temperatures compared to surrounding areas. These cooler spots emerge from the intricate interplay and rearrangement of magnetic field lines near them. Solar flares, on the other hand, represent intense bursts of energy resulting from the entanglement, intersection, or realignment of magnetic fields in proximity to sunspots.

             The Sun is made of hot ionized plasma whose motions generate magnetic fields in the solar interior by harnessing the energy of the plasma flows. This mechanism is known as the solar dynamo mechanism. Simply stated, it is a process by which kinetic energy of plasma motions is converted to magnetic energy, which generates the magnetized sunspots.

Sunspots are the origins of solar outbursts like coronal mass ejections and flares, which hurl radiation and charged particles across the solar system. Visible sunspots are caused by magnetic disturbances in the sun that displace its bright outer layer and reveal the slightly cooler (and darker) interior layers, usually for a few days but sometimes for several weeks. Sunspots are cooler regions in the photosphere of the sun and have deep magnetic fields surrounding them.

Earth is often struck by solar eruptions, which comprise energetic particles that are hurled away from the Sun into space, where those directed toward the Earth encounter the magnetic field around our planet. When these eruptions interact with the magnetic field, they cause beautiful auroras.

 Solar flares– the breaking and reconnection of magnetic fields on the sun frequently shower Earth with high-energy particles causing the Aurora Borealis and, occasionally, less-welcome disruptions to power networks and communications. A solar flare is a tremendous explosion on the Sun that happens when energy stored in ‘twisted’ magnetic fields (usually above sunspots) is suddenly released. Solar flares, directly affect the ionosphere and radio communications at the Earth and also release energetic particles into space.

 A magnetic field is generated when electric charge carriers such as electrons move through space or within an electrical conductor.

The standard SI unit for magnetic field is the Tesla.


When many sunspots are visible, the Sun is somewhat brighter than in “quiet” times and radiates considerably more in the ultraviolet. On the other hand, the cosmic ray intensity entering the Earth’s atmosphere varies opposite to the solar activity, since the cosmic ray particles are deflected by the Sun’s magnetic field to a greater or lesser degree. With increased solar activity (and stronger magnetic fields), the cosmic ray intensity decreases, and with it the amount of cloud coverage, results in a rise of temperatures on Earth. Conversely, a reduction in solar activity produces lower temperatures.

These powerful solar storms can be bad for us here on Earth, as the powerful energy from flares and protons can play havoc on our modern electronic world. So far, astronomers have documented 24 such cycles, the last one ended in 2019.


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