When I saw this image I thought “wow, what an awesome painting!” But that’s not a painting at all – instead, it’s an actual image of the Sun taken in Ultraviolet light by the Solar Dynamics Observatory on August 31 2012, and it was a monster! Here’s the breakdown:
A filament of relatively cool gas had been suspended for several days in the upper atmosphere by the Sun’s magnetic field. The magnetic field on the Sun is very dynamic, with its local field lines tangling and twisting as the Sun rotates. This causes escaping gases to be trapped in the field lines and “hang” in the atmosphere for several days or even weeks at a time. These filaments can be huge. How huge? Huge:
But that’s not all … if opposite magnetic field lines are brought together, the result is a powerful release of matter and energy called a Coronal Mass Ejection. And that’s exactly what happened here, hurtling the filament, plus a whole lot more, out at over 900 miles per second!
Even better, NASA caught the whole thing on video and put it together into a spectacular movie featuring footage from SDO, SOHO, and even STEREO-B from the far side of the Sun (be sure to go to HD and full screen for maximum awesomeness):
More to come!
Over the next two years the Sun will be approaching solar maximum, which means we should be treated to even more spectacular events like this one.
Enjoy the show!