Gorgeous flowing plasma fountain erupts from the Sun

Gorgeous flowing plasma fountain erupts from the Sun

Gorgeous flowing plasma fountain erupts from the Sun

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
Oct. 10 2011 7:00 AM

Gorgeous flowing plasma fountain erupts from the Sun

On September 24th, Active Region 1302 -- a cluster of enormous sunspots -- popped off an X-class flare, a powerful event that caused some beautiful aurorae here on Earth.

But the flares don't have to be so powerful to generate ethereal, magnificent beauty. A day after that biggish event, those sunspots burped again, this time with a lower-power M-class flare. Now, when I say "low power", it's not like a firecracker or a car backfiring: the total energy released would still dwarf the combined nuclear might of every country on Earth! By a lot. But for the Sun, that's considered to be "meh".

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!  

Advertisement

Still, if you get a good view of it, well, it's still gorgeous. The Solar Dynamics Observatory, orbiting the Earth, has what is essentially a box seat to the Sun, and got this footage of the flare:


[Make sure to set it to at least 720p and make it full screen!]

Advertisement

The flare and prominence -- the arcing tower of material -- lasted about three hours, and this video shows it at a rate of one frame every minute of real time. The flare pops, and then the fountain erupts from the surface. This gas is ionized (stripped of at least one electron), so it's highly influenced by the magnetic field of the Sun as well as by its crushing gravity. The material flows up, forming that amazing sheet of roiling gas, reaches the top of its arc, and falls back down.

Well, it doesn't fall so much as flow, guided by the enormous strength of the Sun's magnetic field lines. Mind you, eyeballing from the size of the Sun's disk, I'd venture this tower of gas is well over 100,000 km (60,000 miles) long! There are millions of tons of gas in it as well, moving dozens of times faster than a rifle bullet. The energies involved are mind-crushing.

Also, if you look to the upper left, you'll see a smaller prominence loop caught in the act of evolving, with material apparently floating over the solar surface, then flowing back down as well.

Advertisement

Video credit: NASA/SDO/Helioviewer.org.



Related posts: