I describe two of the most dynamic and highly energetic phenomena in the Solar System — the explosive flares that can occur when plasma is confined by magnetic fields and the large–scale ejections of material known as ‘coronal mass ejections’. These explosive events are poorly understood and yet occur in a variety of contexts in the Universe, ranging from planetary magnetospheres to active galactic nuclei. Understanding why flares and coronal mass ejections occur is a major goal across a wide range of space physics and astrophysics. Although explosive events from the Sun have dramatic effects on Earth, flares in other stars, for example, can be vastly more energetic and have an even more profound effect on their environment. We are now in the unprecedented position of having access to a number of space observatories dedicated to the Sun: the Yohkoh spacecraft, the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, the Transition Region and Coronal Explorer and the Ramaty High Energy Solar Spectroscopic Imager. These cover a wide wavelength range from white light to gamma rays with both spectroscopy and imaging, and allow huge progress to be made in understanding the processes involved in such large explosions. The high–resolution data show dramatic and complex explosions of material on all spatial scales on the Sun. They have revealed that the Sun is constantly changing everywhere on its surface — something that was never imagined before. One of the mechanisms that has been proposed to account for the large energy release is magnetic reconnection. Recent observations from space increasingly support this view. This article will discuss those observations that support this model and also those that suggest different processes. The current space missions have given us an excellent insight into the actual explosive processes in the Sun. However, they have provided us with only a tantalizing glimpse of what causes the elusive trigger. Future missions such as Solar–B (the follow–on to Yohkoh), the Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory, the Solar Dynamics Observatory and the Solar Orbiter mission will allow us to probe the trigger in a way that was not dreamt of a decade ago, by providing stereo views, measurements from Sun–grazing orbit, and much higher spatial, temporal and spectral resolution. It is an exciting time for solar physics and everything that we learn about the Sun will improve our ability to understand other magnetic phenomena in the Universe.