A fiery angel erupts from the Sun

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July 28 2011 12:27 PM

A fiery angel erupts from the Sun

When you build and launch a high-resolution solar observatory that stares at the Sun 24 hours a day, you're bound to catch some pretty cool stuff. As proof, check out this video of a stunning prominence erupting from the Sun's surface on July 12, 2011, as seen by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory:

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!  

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[Make sure you set the resolution to at least 720p.]

That's really graceful, especially considering that tower reached the staggering height of about 150,000 km (90,000 miles) above the Sun in just a few minutes!

The gas on the Sun is ionized, which means it's had one or more electrons ripped away from its atoms. Technically called a plasma, this makes it sensitive to the Sun's strong magnetic forces. That becomes really obvious after it starts to collapse; it doesn't follow a ballistic trajectory like you'd expect (the path a ball thrown up in the air would follow), but instead flows along the Sun's magnetic field lines. This video is in the ultraviolet, where such a plasma glows brightly.

For a moment there, just at its peak, it coincidentally looks like a classic angel with wings spread. Of course, once the angel dissolves it forms more of an arc... so I guess this makes it an archangel. I'm glad no one heard a trumpet playing when this happened. That could've been awkward.

Credit: NASA/SDO



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