Do ripples on the surface of the sun tell us that a flare is coming?

Do ripples on the surface of the sun tell us that a flare is coming?
Solar flares produce waves with paths that bend up to the surface, revealing themselves as ripples on the surface. Credit: UC Berkeley/Juan Camilo Buitrago-Casas

Flares from the sun are some of the nastiest things in the solar system. When the sun flares, it belches out intense X-ray radiation (and sometimes even worse). Predicting solar flares is a tricky job, and a new research paper sheds light on a possible new technique: looking for telltale ripples in the surface of the sun minutes before the blast comes.


The sun’s magnetic fields are usually nice and calm, but they can become tangled up with each other. When they do, they store a massive amount of energy. And when they finally snap, it’s like a giant Earth-sized rubber band reaching the breaking point. These events are known as solar flares, and they are one of the most energetic events in the solar system.

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Can ripples on the sun help predict solar flares? Scientists analyze sunquakes to pinpoint flare energy source, perhaps predict flare severity — ScienceDaily

Solar flares are violent explosions on the sun that fling out high-energy charged particles, sometimes toward Earth, where they disrupt communications and endanger satellites and astronauts.

But as scientists discovered in 1996, flares can also create seismic activity — sunquakes — releasing impulsive acoustic waves that penetrate deep into the sun’s interior.

While the relationship between solar flares and sunquakes is still a mystery, new findings suggest that these “acoustic transients” — and the surface ripples they generate — can tell us a lot about flares and may someday help us forecast their size and severity.

A team of physicists from the United States, Colombia and Australia has found that part of the acoustic energy released from a flare in 2011 emanated from about 1,000 kilometers beneath the solar surface — the photosphere — and, thus, far beneath the solar flare that triggered the quake.

The results, published Sept. 21

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