Skip to main content
Log in

The magnetic nature of solar flares

  • Paper
  • Published:
The Astronomy and Astrophysics Review Aims and scope


The main challenge for the theory of solar eruptions has been to understand two basic aspects of large flares. These are the cause of the flare itself and the nature of the morphological features which form during its evolution. Such features include separating ribbons of H\(\alpha\) emission joined by a rising arcade of soft x-ray loops, with hard x-ray emission at their summits and at their feet. Two major advances in our understanding of the theory of solar flares have recently occurred. The first is the realisation that a magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) catastrophe is probably responsible for the basic eruption and the second is that the eruption is likely to drive a reconnection process in the field lines stretched out by the eruption. The reconnection is responsible for the ribbons and the set of rising soft x-ray loops, and such a process is well supported by numerical experiments and detailed observations from the Japanese satellite Yohkoh.

Magnetic energy conversion by reconnection in two dimensions is relatively well understood, but in three dimensions we are only starting to understand the complexity of the magnetic topology and the MHD dynamics which are involved. How the dynamics lead to particle acceleration is even less well understood. Particle acceleration in flares may in principle occur in a variety of ways, such as stochastic acceleration by MHD turbulence, acceleration by direct electric fields at the reconnection site, or diffusive shock acceleration at the different kinds of MHD shock waves that are produced during the flare. However, which of these processes is most important for producing the energetic particles that strike the solar surface remains a mystery.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or Ebook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Similar content being viewed by others

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Additional information

Received 2 January 2001 / Published online 17 July 2001

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Priest, E., Forbes, T. The magnetic nature of solar flares. The Astron Astrophys Rev 10, 313–377 (2002).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: