Large gradual solar energetic particle events

Mihir Desai, Joe Giacalone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

278 Scopus citations


Solar energetic particles, or SEPs, from suprathermal (few keV) up to relativistic (~few GeV) energies are accelerated near the Sun in at least two ways: (1) by magnetic reconnection-driven processes during solar flares resulting in impulsive SEPs, and (2) at fast coronal-mass-ejection-driven shock waves that produce large gradual SEP events. Large gradual SEP events are of particular interest because the accompanying high-energy (>10s MeV) protons pose serious radiation threats to human explorers living and working beyond low-Earth orbit and to technological assets such as communications and scientific satellites in space. However, a complete understanding of these large SEP events has eluded us primarily because their properties, as observed in Earth orbit, are smeared due to mixing and contributions from many important physical effects. This paper provides a comprehensive review of the current state of knowledge of these important phenomena, and summarizes some of the key questions that will be addressed by two upcoming missions-NASA's Solar Probe Plus and ESA's Solar Orbiter. Both of these missions are designed to directly and repeatedly sample the near-Sun environments where interplanetary scattering and transport effects are significantly reduced, allowing us to discriminate between different acceleration sites and mechanisms and to isolate the contributions of numerous physical processes occurring during large SEP events.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number3
JournalLiving Reviews in Solar Physics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2016


  • Coronal mass ejections
  • Particle radiation
  • Shocks
  • Solar activity
  • Solar energetic particles
  • Space weather

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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