The Sun lets loose a HUGE explosion

The entire universe in blog form
June 7 2011 10:21 AM

The Sun lets loose a HUGE explosion

Early this morning, the Sun erupted with an explosion I can only describe as ginormous. We're in no danger from it, but the size and scope of this thing are simply spectacular. Here's a video I put together of the event using Helioviewer, a public-domain solar viewer:

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  


Yowza! [Make sure to set the resolution to at least 720p, and make it full screen to get the full effect.]

What you're seeing here is a solar flare (an enormous explosion of pent-up magnetic energy) coupled with a prominence (a physical eruption of gas from the surface). This event blasted something like a billion tons of material away from the Sun. Note the size of it, too: while it started from a small region on the Sun's surface, it quickly expanded into a plume easily as big as the Sun itself! I'd estimate its size at well over a million kilometers across. It looks like most of the material fell back down to the Sun's surface; that's common, though sometimes such an event manages to blast the material completely away into space.

The above video shows the Sun in the ultraviolet (304 Angstroms for those playing at home, quite a bit bluer than what the eye can naturally see) and is colored orange to make it easy to see.

The folks at Helioviewer put together a close-up looking at even higher energy; it's still UV but at 171 Angstroms: [UPDATE: Drat. That video has been taken down. Sorry about that, folks.]

Again, may I say, yowza! The material is silhouetted against the Sun's brighter surface, making it appear dark. I think the expanding circle you can see is a shock wave pummeling the Sun's surface, but it might be a line-of-sight effect of the edge of the explosion, like seeing a soap bubble's bright edge.

You can read more about this event at the very cool Geeked on Goddard blog. The energy of the event was colossal. A good flare can release up to 10% of the Sun's total energy, the equivalent of billions of nuclear bombs exploding. What's funny to me is that this wasn't all that big a flare; it was rated as a class M2.5, far lower in energy than the vast explosions from the Sun back in February.

Again, the good news is that we're not in any danger from this; it wasn't aimed our way (most of these types of events miss us). But as I've said before, the solar cycle is heating up and we can expect to see more incredible events from our friendly neighborhood star in the coming years.

Credit: NASA/SDO, animation made using Helioviewer. [Note: I had originally used the wrong units when indicating the wavelength of light seen in the videos -- nanometers instead of Angstroms -- so I've corrected that and changed the text a bit to make it clearer.]

Related posts:



More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Corporal Punishment and Black Culture

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

Why Do Some People See the Virgin Mary in Grilled Cheese?

The science that explains the human need to find meaning in coincidences.


Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

Is It Worth Paying Full Price for the iPhone 6 to Keep Your Unlimited Data Plan? We Crunch the Numbers.

What to Do if You Literally Get a Bug in Your Ear

  News & Politics
Sept. 16 2014 7:03 PM Kansas Secretary of State Loses Battle to Protect Senator From Tough Race
Sept. 16 2014 2:35 PM Germany’s Nationwide Ban on Uber Lasted All of Two Weeks
The Vault
Sept. 16 2014 12:15 PM “Human Life Is Frightfully Cheap”: A 1900 Petition to Make Lynching a Federal Offense
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 8:43 PM This 17-Minute Tribute to David Fincher Is the Perfect Preparation for Gone Girl
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 6:40 PM This iPhone 6 Feature Will Change Weather Forecasting
  Health & Science
Sept. 16 2014 1:39 PM The Case of the Missing Cerebellum How did a Chinese woman live 24 years missing part of her brain?
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 8:41 PM You’re Cut, Adrian Peterson Why fantasy football owners should release the Minnesota Vikings star.