Eli5: what causes solar flares?How are they magnetic?


Eli5: what causes solar flares?How are they magnetic?

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The sun has a really strong magnetic field, kind of like the one that makes compasses point north on earth but *far* larger and stronger. And, unlike earth, the sun’s field isn’t mostly constant, it’s moving around and fluctuating as all the various layers of the sun swirl around (the sun isn’t solid).

And, very unlike earth, the sun is so hot that the atmosphere isn’t made of nice neutral molecules…it’s so hot that the electrons and nuclei are all seperated from each other and whizzing around like crazy, a plasma. Plasmas are charged, conductive, and constantly in motion. Any time you try to move a charged particle in a magnetic field you get a force on the particle, and any time you move a charged particle you get a magnetic field.

The actual interaction between the sun’s atmosphere and magnetic field is super messy but, when the mathematical dust all settles, you end up with *huge* streams of high energy charged particles spiraling around the sun’s magnetic field lines. Sometimes those field lines extend in loops up above the sun’s surface and you get a prominence or solar flare…a monster stream of charged plasma in a loop coming up from the sun’s surface. And sometimes the magnetic loop collapses, throwing enormous quantities of solar plasma out into space at high speed.