If a solar flare really took place that close to Earth, it would mean the end of days on our little planet. But seeing that flare erupt right next to us sure does show us just how powerful these things really are.
This image of a particularly giant solar flare was created by the ESA. While the sizes of the planet and the sun are accurate, the distance has been shrunk to put us, alarmingly, almost right next to each other. Even at their actual considerable distance, solar flares are already capable of causing plenty of mischief on our planet. Seeing it so close does, however, put the sizes in perspective.
This particular solar flare, which took place in 1999, jumped out of the sun with a diameter 35 times the diameter of our planet, which makes it one of the larger ones ever spotted. But solar flares of that size are not unheard of, especially these days.
Here’s a video of another particularly large solar flare from 2010 that NASA’s Solar Observatory released just this week. That solar filament spent over a week hovering over the sun before finally breaking free and lashing outwards like a huge whip.
These events are relatively common lately because, we’re coming off of a Solar Maximum which, just like it sounds, is a period of intense magnetic activity in the sun. In addition to frequent flares, we also have an unusually high number of sunspots. As that period winds down to into the sun’s corresponding quiet period, the equally aptly-named Solar Minimum, we’ll see fewer of these sorts of dramatic outbursts.