Weather: Weather wise

Sunspots, solar flares and wobbles in the sun's period of rotation have all been tentatively linked to changes in the Earth's weather. Now another phenomenon can be added to the list: blinkers.

British scientists have discovered a new type of sporadic, small explosions occurring on the surface of the sun. Each one is about the size of the Earth, and they erupt across all parts of the sun's surface "like water boiling in a pan", according to Peter Bond of the Royal Astronomical Society.

The flashes were discovered by a team led by Dr Richard Harrison at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire, who called them "blinkers". The flashes, which are distributed over the entire surface of the sun and last for several minutes each, were first picked up by the European Space Agency's Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, orbiting the sun between it and the Earth.

The flashes are made of electrically charged hydrogen and helium that explodes on the sun's surface. They may help explain how the sun ejects a continuous stream of gas into space, and why its outer atmosphere is so much hotter than its surface.

So far, nobody has suggested that blinkers may affect the weather on Earth, but it can only be a matter of time before someone counts them, and correlates them with aspects of our climate.