The mystery of solar nanoflares

The mystery of solar nanoflares

Nanoflares are eruptions on the Sun which are billion times less energetic than ordinary flares but still have the power that belies their name. 

They appear as little brightenings of the solar surface at extreme ultraviolet and X-ray wavelengths and they might solve a long-standing mystery in solar physics:  What causes the Sun's corona to be so hot?

Physicist David Smith of the UC Santa Crus says a typical 'nanoflare' has the same energy as 240 megatons of TNT, or something like 10 000 atomic fission bombs. 

Unlike typical solar flares, which can be weeks or even months apart, nanoflares appear to be active throughout the solar cycle, which would explain why the corona remains hot during Solar Minimum.

And while each individual nanoflare falls short of the energy required to heat the Sun's atmosphere, collectively they might have no trouble doing to job.

Featured image and video courtesy of NASA/ScienceCast

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