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So they began looking for the culprit and discovered an unexpected correlation with solar flares.

Solar Flare Leaves Sun Quaking

It seemed that when the number of solar flares went up, so did the strength of the five-minute oscillations. A similar phenomenon is known on Earth in the aftermath of large earthquakes. For example, after the Sumatra-Andaman earthquake, the whole Earth rang with seismic waves like a vibrating bell for several weeks. The correlation is not the end of the story. Now the researchers have to work to understand the mechanism by which the flares cause the oscillations.

Quaking Aspen (Single Stem Form)

In a broader context, the correlation suggests that, by looking for similar oscillations within other stars, astronomers can monitor them for flares. Already, Karoff has used high-technology instruments at major ground-based telescopes to look at other sun-like stars. In several cases, he detected the tell-tale signs of oscillations that might originate from flares.

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The hard work, it seems, is just starting. The observations give solar physicists new insight into a long-running solar mystery, and may even provide a way of studying other stars. This is an image of the extremely powerful solar flare on November 4, , taken by the SOHO spacecraft.

The image reveals hot gas in the solar atmosphere in false color, and the flare is the bright, white area on the right edge of the sun. The horizontal line through the flare is not real; it's just the result of the flare's intense light saturating the detector in the instrument making the image: Turbulence in this region causes ripples that criss-cross the solar surface, making it heave up and down in a patchwork pattern of peaks and troughs.

SOHO has proved to be an exceptional spacecraft for studying this phenomenon.


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A class of vibrations, or oscillations, called the five-minute oscillations with a frequency of around three millihertz have proven particularly useful. According to conventional thinking, the five-minute oscillations can be thought of as the sound you would get from a bell sitting in the middle of the desert and constantly being touched by random sand grains, blown on the wind.

So they began looking for the culprit and discovered an unexpected correlation with solar flares. It seemed that when the number of solar flares went up, so did the strength of the five-minute oscillations.