Our sun may look relatively constant from our far away perch on Earth, but up close it's a busy place, full of plasma activity, shifting magnetic fields, and, yes, even explosions. Here are the different kinds of solar explosions you might see, and how to tell the difference between them.


NASA put together this guide to distinguishing a solar flare from a coronal mass ejection (CME). While both are solar explosions caused by twists of the sun's magnetic fields, there are some simple ways to tell one from the other. The most easily distinguishable is that, while flares explode as flashes of light, CMEs explode as clouds of expanding gas.

NASA offers this analogy:

One can think of the explosions using the physics of a cannon. The flare is like the muzzle flash, which can be seen anywhere in the vicinity. The CME is like the cannonball, propelled forward in a single, preferential direction, this mass ejected from the barrel only affecting a targeted area.


You can see some visual examples of just how the two differ in the video above. And then, next time you see pictures of an explosion taking place on the surface of the sun, you'll know exactly which kind you're looking at.

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