November 18th, 2012 by James Ayre
An enormous mass of super-hot plasma just erupted from the Sun on Friday, November 16. The mass was ejected in back-to-back solar storms that were filmed by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO).
“The giant sun eruption, called a solar prominence, occurred at 1 a.m. EST (0600 GMT), with another event flaring up four hours later. The prominences was so large, it expanded beyond the camera view of NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), which captured high-definition video of the solar eruption.”
“The red-glowing looped material is plasma, a hot gas made of electrically charged hydrogen and helium,” officials with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, which oversees the SDO mission, explained in a description.
“The prominence plasma flows along a tangled and twisted structure of magnetic fields generated by the sun’s internal dynamo. An erupting prominence occurs when such a structure becomes unstable and bursts outward, releasing the plasma.”
This recent solar eruption doesn’t seem to be aimed at the Earth, so it is unlikely to affect us directly. “But that was not the case earlier this week when a powerful solar flare erupted on Monday (Nov. 12). That flare registered as an M6-class eruption, a moderate but still intense solar event.”
“On Tuesday and Wednesday (Nov. 13 and 14), space weather conditions sparked a geomagnetic storm that supercharged the Earth’s auroras, creating spectacular northern lights displays for observers at high latitudes.”
“When aimed directly at Earth, the most powerful solar flares and eruptions can pose a threat to satellites and astronauts in orbit, and also interfere with communication, navigation and power systems on the ground.”
We’re currently in the middle of the active phase of tge Sun’s 11-year solar weather cycle. The current cycle, Solar Cycle 24, is predicted to peak in 2013.
“A prominence is a large, bright feature extending outward from the Sun’s surface, often in a loop shape. Prominences are anchored to the Sun’s surface in the photosphere, and extend outwards into the Sun’s corona. While the corona consists of extremely hot ionized gases, known as plasma, which do not emit much visible light, prominences contain much cooler plasma, similar in composition to that of the chromosphere. A prominence forms over timescales of about a day, and stable prominences may persist in the corona for several months. Some prominences break apart and give rise to coronal mass ejections. Scientists are currently researching how and why prominences are formed.”
“A typical prominence extends over many thousands of kilometers; the largest on record was estimated at over 800,000 kilometres (500,000 mi) long – roughly the radius of the Sun.”
“When a prominence is viewed from a different perspective so that it is against the sun instead of against space, it appears darker than the surrounding background. This formation is instead called a solar filament. It is possible for a projection to be both a filament and a prominence. Some prominences are so powerful that they throw out matter from the Sun into space at speeds ranging from 600 km/s to more than 1000 km/s. Other prominences form huge loops or arching columns of glowing gases over sunspots that can reach heights of hundreds of thousands of kilometres. Prominences may last for a few days or even for a few months. Flocculi (plural of flocculus) is another term for these filaments, and dark flocculi typically describes the appearance of solar prominences when viewed against the solar disk in certain wavelengths.”
Image Credits: NASA/SDO
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