What do you think of when you hear the word “storm”? Images of rolling black clouds might fill your mind. The crack of thunder probably fills your ears. Your eyes may search the sky for bolts of lightning.

But what about a solar storm? Would you believe the Earth is occasionally hit with solar storms and you probably don’t see or hear any of the things just mentioned?

A solar storm is a term used for atmospheric effects felt on Earth from certain events that occur on the Sun. You probably think of the Sun as a bright shining light that never changes. In reality, it’s an unbelievably huge ball of molten gases that’s constantly in flux.

Solar storms occur when the Sun emits huge bursts of energy in the form of solar flares and coronal mass ejections. These phenomena send a stream of electrical charges and magnetic fields toward the Earth at a speed of about three million miles per hour.

When a solar storm strikes the Earth, it often produces a dazzling “northern lights” display in parts of the atmosphere that can be seen in areas close to the Arctic Circle. Solar storms can also disrupt satellites and various forms of electronic communications.

Solar storms start with a huge explosion on the Sun. These explosions — called solar flares — can be about as powerful as billions of nuclear bombs!

Solar flares usually go hand-in-hand with the release of huge streams of charged plasma that travel at millions of miles per hour. These streams are called coronal mass ejections, or CMEs. When CMEs hit the Earth, they can cause geomagnetic storms that disrupt satellites and electrical power grids.

For example, in February 2011, a CME produced by an especially-powerful solar flare disrupted radio communications throughout China. Some experts believe a major solar storm could cause over 20 times the economic damage of the worst hurricane.

Scientists who study solar storms have discovered that the frequency of solar flares appears to follow an 11-year solar cycle. At times of peak activity, there could be several solar storms each day. At other times, there might be less than one solar storm per week. Scientists expect the Sun’s current activity cycle to result in a peak in solar storms during late 2013.

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  1. Wow. I love today’s wonder even though I guessed wrong. The DID YOU KNOW explains a lot of things at my house. I learned solar storms can cut through electricity. I also learned about the fact that there will be a solar storm in late 2013, THIS YEAR!!!!!! I think tomorrow’s wonder will be about different types of cheese. Evan

    • Hey Evan, we’re so glad you came back to Wonder with us today! HOORAY! It’s okay that you didn’t guess correctly, the important part is that you’re here today! We’re so glad you are WONDERing about solar storms and what they can do! We love your enthusiasm and we can’t wait to Wonder with you again! :)

  2. We liked watching the solar storm, we had seen that before in science class!

    We think tomorrow’s wonder of the day will be about somebody cheesy, or a mouse.

    • How cool, Wonder Friends in Ms. Bayko’s Class! We’re glad to hear that you’ve been WONDERing about solar storms in your lessons already- what a great connection! We hope you’re having a WONDERful day and a SUPER weekend; keep up the great work! :)

  3. I think that solar storms are a thing that could be catastrophic to us. Again we had no power that would be BAD. I think that a solar storm can be cool to because the solar eclipse in the North and South Poles well that’s it for today wonderopolis. :)

    • Hey Wonder Friend Jayden, we are glad you have been thinking about the effects of solar storms! Being without power can cause lots of issues, especially when the weather is extremely hot or cold! We are proud of you for thinking about what would happen all over the world, too! We look forward to WONDERing with you again! :)

  4. Hi again woneropolis,

    Because I live in Ontario, Canada we learned about the Northern Lights because up in Nunavut you can see them but I never knew how they were created. Thanks for the great wonder of the day !!!!!!!!

    P.S. Have you ever done a wonder on how cartoons are made?

    Your ever wondering friend, Eiffie

  5. Hi Wonderopolis,
    Today’s wonder was cool. I never knew that the solar storms could affect Earth and electricity.

    Your Friend,

    Ben

    • Hey Ben, thanks for sharing your comment! We’re glad to hear this Wonder was right up your alley– solar storms sure are powerful! It’s really great that you learned about the different things a solar storm is responsible for, like disrupting electricity! Have a WONDERful weekend, Ben! :)

  6. HI!
    Today’s wonder was cool I like how those places/plants/or sun had all kinds of stuff on them. I think tomorrow’s wonder of the day is about cheese. Can you have a karate wonder please?

    • Brady, thanks for telling us all about your favorite part of today’s Wonder! It’s so cool that you learned how the solar system is connected, too! We look forward to WONDERing with you again… thanks for sharing your dairy Wonder guess! We are so glad you shared your awesome Wonder with us! It takes some time to go from Wonder idea to completed Wonder, but we look forward to starting another Wonder! Do you practice karate? :)

    • Great work, Wonder Friend Ashton! It’s incredible to learn all about the energy it takes to create a solar storm! We are so glad you shared what you learned with us today! Have a SUPER weekend! :)

    • Great point, Wonder Friend Mason! We learned that solar storms from the past have impacted can our electricity– but we think sunglasses are a good idea! :)

  7. I think today’s wonder is hot it was amazing. And thank you for the hockey wonder it was cool to see how pucks are made can you do a karate wonder please thank you.

    • Today’s Wonder sure has a lot of energy, Liam, thanks for sharing your comment! We think you and Brady are on the same page, Liam! We would love to start our research about karate in order to create a Wonder– perhaps you can help us! Perhaps you can write a Wonder of your own, we’d love to hear it! :)

    • We’re so happy you’re here today, Maddy! Thanks for sharing your comment and your guess for tomorrow! What was your favorite part of today’s stormy Wonder? :)

  8. I think learning about solar storms is really cool and it would be awesome to see one in person. I think tomorrow’s wonder of the day will be about a mouse or different types of cheese.

    • Nice work, Karsen, we’re glad you are imagining what a solar storm would look like! It’s so great that you have been thinking about tomorrow’s Wonder, too. Thanks for visiting us today, Karsen! :)

  9. I think solar storms look really cool and it would be cool to see one. If I could see one I would think that it’s really colourful and awesome. I think tomorrow’s will be about cheese.

    • Great job of describing what a solar storm would look like, Alexa! We are so happy that you’ve been using your imagination to Wonder with us– keep up the great work! :)

  10. Hello wonderopolis. I never knew that solar storms were so powerful. I hope I’m not watching T.V. when the next solar storm hits. :) Noah.

    • How cool, Noah! We’re so glad to hear that you learned something about solar storms- they sure are full of energy! We hope you’ll continue to Wonder this weekend… thanks for sharing your awesome comment! We think you’re awesome! :)

    • Hey Wonder Friend Alicia, we’re glad you WONDERed with us today, even if solar storms can be a bit frightening to think about! We’re glad you learned something new with us, thanks for visiting us, Alicia! :)

    • Way to go, Cowboy Warriors, you did a great job of learning something new and out-of-this world awesome! We are so glad you visited us today– we hope to Wonder again with you soon! :)

  11. We learned about the solar storm and how it works.We know that the sun is so bright it can blind you.We learned a lot thanks.

    • Great suggestions, Jusin! We are glad you WONDERed with us– we like your clever comment, too! We hope you learned something new with us! Perhaps we will Wonder with you this weekend? :)

  12. I liked today’s wonder! I have never heard of a solar storm until now. It is really crazy to imagine a solar flare being as powerful as billions of nuclear bombs. Thank you for today’s wonder! Can you do a wonder on eclipses? :) ;)

    • Welcome back to Wonderopolis, Berkleigh! We’re so glad you visited us today! We love your awesome nomination for a Wonder about eclipses! We are so glad you liked today’s Wonder and learned all about solar storms! :)

    • Hey there, Wonder Friend R! You’ve got it, there is a “Have You Ever WONDERed” section about solar storms:
      What is a solar storm?
      What are solar flares?
      What is a coronal mass ejection? :)

    • We’re so happy you learned something new, Naomi and Andrea! Thanks for WONDERing with us today! The solar system is so much fun to Wonder about, we’re so glad you think so, too! Have a WONDERful weekend, Wonder Friends! :)

  13. Wow colorful… solar flare goes BOOM!!!! That was awesome!!!
    Sun is just amazing. Maybe the next Wonder is cheese related or maybe some cheesy movies. :D
    After the wonder tomorrow the next should be computers or inventions… did I mention it could be computers!!!!?
    :D

  14. I think the wonder of the day was cool. I have heard of a Solar Storm before but I never knew what it was…until today and this is what I learned: A solar storm is a term used for atmospheric effects felt on Earth from certain events that occur on the Sun. I love All the wonders of the day they are awesome, and I love reading them!

    • How great, Lil, you learned something new with us today! ALRIGHT! Thanks for summarizing what you now know about solar storms– they sure are powerful! We hope to Wonder again with you; enjoy your WONDERful weekend! :)

    • We agree, Wonder Friend Chloe! We’re glad to hear this Wonder made you smile! What was your favorite part of our solar system Wonder? :)

  15. By the word solar storm I thought you meant by that there was a storm coming, about time there weren’t any storms because I would be screaming like a panther. Thank you Wonderopolis I learned a lot.

    • Well we’re glad that there aren’t any storms, Jashantai! We know that sometimes storms can be scary, but we’re happy you WONDERed with us today! We hope to Wonder with you soon, Jashantai– have a super Saturday! :)

  16. Boy do I have a treat for you wonderopolis! Me and Mrs. Venglar’s class made a video on verbs and we were WONDERing if we could send it to you and see what you think of it?

  17. Dear Wonderopolis, I know a lot about solar flares and all that. My dad always makes me watch the science channel. My mom and dad love science. Ade from Lancaster

    • WOW, we think it’s super cool that you and your parents watch the Science channel together, Ade! It sounds like you’re a family who enjoys WONDERing all the time! We are glad you could relate to our out-of-this-world Wonder today… we hope you learned something new, too! See you soon, Wonder Friend! :)

    • HOORAY, it sounds like you learned something new with us today, Autumn! We’re so glad you enjoyed our solar storm Wonder! What was your favorite part? :)

  18. Hello Wonderopolis. Thank you for this great wonder. We were curious if a solar storm would effect only our planet or other planets too?

    Please and thank you for any feedback. We always look forward to hearing from you.

    • Good afternoon, Mrs. Kahler’s 2nd Grade Class, thank you for sharing your comment today! We are glad you asked about the other planets in our solar system– the solar storm can affect planets other than Earth. For example, scientists were anticipating the last solar storm to affect Mercury the most! :)

    • Hey Gabe, thanks for sharing your awesome comment about our out-of-this-world Wonder! Solar storms are super interesting, we think it’s cool to learn how much energy it takes to have a storm like that! WOWZA! We learned that a storm in the solar system can affect Earth, such as causing electrical outages. Thanks for visiting us today, Gabe! :)

    • We sure learned a lot about solar storms today, Guner, and we’re glad you are here WONDERing with us! We hope you have a terrific Tuesday! :)

    • We’re super glad to hear it, Wonder Friend Brian! Thanks for visiting us as we soar into space! WONDERing rocks! :)

  19. Hey wonderopolis! Did you know the sun’s light for a second is brighter than all are light in history combined.

    • Great question, Wonder Friend Dayton! Scientists have a tough time predicting when the solar storm will happen, but a smaller solar storm was spotted in April! Keep your eyes open! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • What is a solar storm?
  • What are solar flares?
  • What is a coronal mass ejection?

Wonder Gallery

873Vimeo Video

Try It Out

Ready to weather the solar storm? Grab a few of your brightest friends and family members and check out one or more of the following activities:

  • WONDER what a solar storm looks like? Of course, you don’t want to stare at the Sun. Instead, jump online to check out National Geographic’s Sun Struck solar storm photo gallery? Which picture do you think is the most impressive? Why?
  • You can also visit Discovery Channel’s website to view their Solar Storm video to see images of what a solar storm might look like in action, as well as what effects might be felt on Earth.
  • Did you know that you can be a solar stormwatcher? It’s true! You don’t even have to be a scientist! Check out the Mission Debriefing page at Solar Stormwatch to learn more about the Sun and the Earth, the spacecraft that monitors the Sun and how you can help scientists spot and trace the paths of solar storms!

Still Wondering

In National Geographic Education’s Extreme Weather in Our Solar System activity, children analyze environmental conditions on other planets and explore possibilities for extreme weather events.

Wonder What’s Next?

We hope you find tomorrow’s Wonder of the Day more than a little cheesy!

Upload a Photo or Paste the URL of a YouTube or SchoolTube Video.