What is a Solar Flare?
A solar flare is a violent explosion in the Sun's atmosphere with an energy equivalent to tens of millions of hydrogen bombs. Solar flares take place in the solar corona and chromosphere, heating plasma to tens of millions of kelvins and accelerating the resulting electrons,
protons and heavier ions to near the speed of light. They produce electromagnetic radiation across the electromagnetic spectrum at all wavelengths from long-wave radio to the shortest wavelength Gamma rays. Most flares occur around sunspots, where intense magnetic fields emerge from the Sun's surface into the corona. The energy efficiency associated with solar flares may take several hours or even days to build up, but most flares take only a matter of minutes to release their energy.
Solar Flare Classifications
Solar flares are classified as A, B, C, M or X according to the peak flux (in watts per square meter, W/m2) of 100 to 800 picometer X-rays near Earth, as measured on the GOES spacecraft. Each class has a peak flux ten times greater than the preceding one, with X class flares having a peak flux of order 10-4 W/m2. Within a class there is a linear scale from 1 to 9, so an X2 flare is twice as powerful as an X1 flare, and is four times more powerful than an M5 flare. The more powerful M and X class flares are often associated with a variety of effects on the near-Earth space environment. Although the GOES classification is commonly used to indicate the size of a flare, it is only one measure.
Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) and earth effects.
A coronal mass ejection (CME) is an ejection of material from the solar corona, observed with a white-light coronagraph.
The material consists of plasma consisting primarily of electrons and protons (in addition to small quantities of heavier elements such as helium, oxygen, and iron), plus the entrained coronal magnetic field. When the solar cloud reaches the Earth as an ICME (Interplanetary CME), it may disrupt the Earth's magnetosphere, compressing it on the dayside and extending the nightside tail. When the magnetosphere reconnects on the nightside, it creates trillions of watts of power which is directed back towards the Earth's upper atmosphere. This process can cause particularly strong aurora also known as the Northern Lights (in the Northern Hemisphere) and the Southern Lights(in the Southern Hemisphere). CME events, along with solar flares, can disrupt radio transmissions, cause power outages (blackouts), and cause damage to satellites and electrical transmission lines.
GOES SXI Website. http://sxi.ngdc.noaa.gov/index.html