In a joint venture with the European Space Agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration has monitored solar flares from the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory satellite since 1995. This satellite also tracks other types of solar activity, including coronal mass ejections and high-speed solar winds. A solar flare is the release of magnetic energy related to sunspots that causes an intense, bright burst of radiation from the sun's surface.
It is important to monitor solar flares and other solar activity because they may impact Earth. A solar flare can impact Earth if the event happens on the side of the sun facing towards the planet. Solar flares can alter Earth's upper atmosphere temporarily, which in turn can cause disruption with signal transmissions and wireless communication. For example, it can cause problems for GPS satellites and affect television and radio broadcasts. Solar flares can also cause a power grid to fail; this occurred in 1989 when solar flares caused disruptions and a major blackout in Quebec.