Focused flares Solar flares are much hotter when they remain “focused”. Normally, the energy of a solar flare is divided between heating the solar atmosphere and accelerating particles out from the sun into space.

Dr. Ryan Milligan says that a focused solar flare “seemed to focus on one task (rather than two), devoting all its energy to heating, allowing it to become millions of degrees hotter than its multi-tasking cousins.”

Dr. Ryan’s discovery will be presented at the Royal Astronomical Society’s meeting April 2, at Queen’s University, Belfast, United Kingdom.

Magnetic energy released suddenly causes solar flares which normally occur above loops of electrified gas, or plasma, in the atmosphere of the sun. A flare will heat this plasma and send streams of electrons down the sides of the loops of the plasma. The energy of the electron stream evaporates more plasma that travels back up the loops. Earth is protected by a magnetic shield that deflects most of the particles from the solar wind that originates from a solar flare. However, astronauts in space or on the moon do not have a magnetic shield for protection on the scale of the Earth’s. The moon has no magnetic field. These flares could be life threatening to humans in space. Research that predicts solar flares and their intensity is important for safe space travel.

The observed focused flares reached almost 27 million degrees Fahrenheit, nearly 9 million degrees more than expected. Dr. Milligan used the Reuven Ramaty High Energy Solar Spectroscopic Imager (RHESSI), a NASA program, and the Hinode spacecraft, a Japanese program, for his observations on June 7, 2007.

Photo: Hinode X-ray telescope