The Sun

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Sunspots are areas that occasionally manifest on the Sun looking like dark spots, they appear on either side of the Sun’s equator in pairs and sometimes in groups called belts. Sunspots appear as dark patches on the Sun because they are cooler than the surrounding Photosphere, the outer layer on the Sun. sunspots do affect the Earth in other ways and in fact they affect the ionosphere which is the very upper layer of the Earth’s atmosphere. When there is a high amount of activity, a large amount of matter from the Sun is released in the form of a ‘solar wind’ or coronal mass ejections also known as solar flares. Charged particles in the wind bounce off and interact with the Earth’s atmosphere and can even affect satellites through background static.

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Sun Prominences

A prominence is a large, bright, gaseous feature extending outward from the Sun's surface, often in a loop shape. Solar prominences can be as small as a sunspot, about the size of Earth, or extend to nearly the diameter of the sun itself. They can contain 10 to 100 billion tons of heated plasma, extending far into the corona of the sun. Once formed prominences can remain stationary in space for many hours or days until they suddenly become unstable and erupt.
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A flare is defined as a sudden, rapid, and intense variation in brightness. When the Sun is at solar maximum, the period in its 11-year cycle when its activity is at its highest, the Sun can unleash over 100 solar flares every week. A volcanic eruption pales in comparison to a solar flare. In a matter of minutes a solar flare, thought to be caused by magnetic fields, can eject billions of tons of charged particles.The Sun has reached its solar maximum where its surface should be peppered with sunspots and erupting with solar flares and coronal mass ejections but, according to spacecraft, our star hasn’t been this inactive since 100 years ago. It has released the odd solar flare, however, and you can learn more about them here.

Solar flares extend out to the layer of the Sun, corona.

The sunspots and solar storms that cause the most magnificent displays of the northern lights occur roughly every 11 years.
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An aurora, sometimes referred to as a polar light, is a natural light display in the sky, predominantly seen in the high latitude (Arctic and Antarctic) regions. Auroras are occasionally seen in latitudes below the auroral zone, when a geomagnetic storm temporarily enlarges the auroral oval. Auroras take many different visual forms. The most distinctive and brightest are the curtain-like auroral arcs. They eventually break-up into separate, and continuously change, often features that may fill the whole sky. At times, some are bright enough to read a newspaper by at night.

The varying intensity of the solar wind produces effects of different magnitudes.