Sun Launches a Beautiful Arc of Plasma

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We are currently experiencing a very exciting time in the 11-year cycle of our sun and there’s no better better way of observing the twisted magnetic fury of “solar maximum” than through the eyes of NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. In a spectacular video posted by the SDO’s rubber chicken mascot, Camilla Corona SDO, a huge arc of “cool” solar gas can be seen being flung high into the sun’s atmosphere — the solar corona. Watch the full video here.

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Every 11 years or so, the sun’s internal magnetic field becomes increasingly stressed. This is all driven by the non-uniform rotation of the star — the sun’s equator rotates faster than its poles, ‘winding-up’ its internal magnetism. When the magnetic field becomes stressed, like a tightly coiled elastic band, the field pops through the solar surface, producing coronal loops and sunspots. Active regions also become sites of potential explosive events such as coronal mass ejections (CMEs) and flares. Solar maximum is expected to peak some time this year.

In addition to all this, cooler plasma from the sun’s “surface” can be launched by an erupting loop of plasma resulting in a prominence, as shown above.

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Prominences such as this aren’t rare, but they do provide us with a wonderful means of understanding the inner turmoil the sun is currently experiencing. This particular prominence “launch” occurred over a 7 hour period. The dark silhouette of the prominence (pictured above) can be seen just before the feature speeds away from the sun. Prominences often appear dark — also known as filaments — against the brighter disk of the sun’s hotter coronal plasma. The plasma contained within the prominence originates from the 10,000 degree chromosphere (below the corona).

Interestingly, research was published today detailing the fine-scale twisting of the sun’s magnetic field and its possible relationship to coronal heating.

Image credit: NASA/Camilla Corona SDO

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