Types of Sun Activity
Solar (sun) activity comes in many different forms and can have a direct impact on the Earth in many ways. Below are some examples of solar activity and how they might have affect the Earth.
Sunspots are darker, cooler areas on the surface of the sun that interact with its magnetic field. They often accompany an increase in the outflow of matter from the Sun called a solar wind. Solar winds can interact with the ionosphere of the Earth, the upper part of the atmosphere, and interfere with communication systems.
Solar flares are intense, short-lived releases of energy from the sun. They are dangerous to living things, but the Earth’s magnetic field and atmosphere protects us from the effects of solar flares. However, they also have the ability to disrupt communication systems.
Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) are large explosions of protons and electrons. These ejections can deplete the ozone layer and cause strong auroras, such as the northern lights. They can also disrupt electrical transmission lines and damage satellites.
Image of coronal mass ejection
Courtesy of Oak Ridge National Laboratory
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An asteroid, comet, meteoroid, meteor and meteorite are all different kinds of space rock.
- Asteroids are small rocky bodies orbiting the sun. Many asteroids orbit the sun between Mars and Jupiter in what is known as the Asteroid Belt. The shapes of asteroids are often unusual due to the many collisions they experience – asteroids don’t have strong enough gravity to pull their shape back into a sphere.
- Comets are asteroid-like objects whose ices vaporize as they approach the sun forming an atmosphere (coma) of gas and dust. At times, solar wind and radiation push some of the gas and dust back creating a dust tail that can be seen with the naked eye.
- Meteoroids are small pieces of stony metallic debris that orbit the sun. Meteoroids come from either a comet or an asteroid.
- Meteors form when meteoroids vaporize when entering the Earth’s atmosphere and create a light phenomenon known as a “shooting star.” The word meteor refers to the flash of light, not the debris itself.
- Meteorites are meteoroids that did not burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere and make it all the way to the Earth’s surface.
Jupiter has stormy weather quite like Earth’s, only more intense. On Earth, storms like hurricanes and cyclones are fueled by the warm ocean. The water is heated by sunlight, which drives weather on Earth. But, Jupiter is five times farther from the Sun than Earth. Jupiter generates nearly 70 percent more heat (internally) than it absorbs from the Sun. The most notable storm on Jupiter is the Great Red Spot (pictured below), which is a constant rotating storm that is large enough to contain two to three planets the size of Earth!
Even though Venus is farther from the sun than Mercury, Venus has hotter surface temperatures. This is due to Venus’ atmosphere, which traps solar radiation very effectively. The atmosphere of Venus is made up almost completely of carbon dioxide with small doses of nitrogen and clouds of sulfuric acid.
Second image of Jupiter courtesy of NASA.