A coronal mass ejection from the sun, also known as a CME, on January 14 was caught in a picture.
Thought there is often confusion between CMEs and solar flares, there are differences. “The most obvious difference between a solar flare and a CME is the spatial scale on which they occur,” according to Berkeley University. “Flares are local events as compared to CMEs which are much larger eruptions of the corona.”
The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, which is run by NASA and its European counterpart, shows solar particles moving away from the sun after the eruption.
CMEs are further described as large bubbles of magnetized gas which erupt into space.
“When a CME erupts from the Sun, magnetized plasma is hurled into space interrupting the steady solar wind,” Berkeley outlines in its explainer. “The ejected coronal material moves through the solar wind, creating a disturbance. This disturbance may include a shock wave that moves ahead of the CME, accelerating some solar wind particles to high energies as it moves. This process adds to any other energetic particles that may be present from an associated flare. If the CME reaches the Earth there can be significant consequences to communications, satellite operations and power generation.”
Solar flares and CMEs sometimes happen in concert with each other. A powerful solar flare on January 7 was associated with a CME that impacted Earth several days later.