Scientists have been studying solar flares for years and have tried to predict when and where one will explode from the boiling-hot surface of the sun, and now new clues have been discovered that may help with those predictions.
Researchers from the NorthWest Research Associates (NWRA) used data collected from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) to identify small signals of the sun's atmosphere, the corona, that will help to determine which regions on the sun were more likely to produce solar flares.
A solar flare, according to NASA, is an intense burst of radiation that comes from the release of magnetic energy associated with sunspots.
Scientists found that above the regions of the sun that were about to flare, the corona produced small flashes.
NASA described those flashes as "small sparklers before the big fireworks."
This newly-discovered find may eventually help scientists improve their predictions of solar flares and other space weather storms.
Space weather can have a significant impact here on Earth by producing mesmerizing auroras, disrupting radio communications, endangering the lives of astronauts and even causing large-scale blackouts.
Scientists have been studying solar flares to try and better predict them
NASA says scientists have been watching activity in the lower layers of the sun's atmosphere, which can indicate an impending solar flare in active regions.
Those regions, according to NASA, are marked by groups of sunspots.
The findings, published in The Astrophysical Journal, are helping scientists better understand solar flares.
"We can get some very different information in the corona than we get from the photosphere, or 'surface' of the sun," KD Leka, lead author on the new study, who is also a designated foreign professor at Nagoya University in Japan, said in a news release. "Our results may give us a new marker to distinguish which active regions are likely to flare soon and which will stay quiet over an upcoming period of time."
NASA said that the scientists used a newly-created image database of the sun's active regions captured by the SDO for their research. The database has eight years of images that were taken above the active areas in ultraviolet and extreme-ultraviolet light.
According to NASA, the new database makes it easier for scientists to use data from the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) on SDO for large-scale studies.
"It's the first time a database like this is readily available for the scientific community, and it will be very useful for studying many topics, not just flare-ready active regions," Karin Dissauer said.