During a solar flare, a large amount of energy is released into the atmosphere. They can cause space weather, geomagnetic storms and shock waves. They are characterized by a strong burst of radiation that can last from minutes to hours. The most powerful flares are known as X-class flares. The next most powerful flares are M-class flares.
Flares occur when a portion of the magnetic loop on the Sun comes into contact with another magnetic loop. This causes the magnetic field to short circuit. The magnetic field then reconnects with the loop closer to the surface of the sun. This process heats the solar atmosphere to high temperatures. This causes a violent burst of radiation to travel at the speed of light.
A large flare is usually associated with a large sunspot. A large sunspot has a strong magnetic field, a large current and sharp magnetic gradients. In addition to producing a flare, a large sunspot can be responsible for the eruption of a coronal mass ejection, a huge cloud of particles blasted in a specific direction.
These coronal mass ejections are the most powerful solar flares. They carry an embedded magnetic field and can travel 250-3,000 kilometers per second. They reach Earth in about eight minutes. They carry billions of tons of plasma. They are the largest events in the solar system.
A solar flare can cause a geomagnetic storm, which can interfere with radio communications and GPS signals. They can also be responsible for a proton storm, which is when charged particles are released into the atmosphere. They can then interact with the atmosphere and cause an aurora borealis, or Northern Lights.