The Sun Erupts

Coronal mass ejection

The Sun launches a spectacular explosion into space, SOHO 4th January 2002

I love this shot by the SOHO satellite from way back in January 2002, it shows in glorious graphic detail the overwhelming power of the Sun. Huge curving filaments of solar plasma race outwards hundreds of thousands of miles into space. This is a coronal mass ejection, a colossal explosion of plasma is launched from the solar atmosphere containing up to a billion tonnes of matter that can accelerate out into space at millions of miles per hour. The image has been coloured to show the intensity of the matter, white being the strongest, blue being the weakest. 

The actual Sun in extreme ultraviolet is overlaid in the centre, and the larger blue circle is used to mask the direct sunlight.

How big would the Earth be in this picture? Take a look at the white dot at top right, this would be the approximate size of Earth to this scale.

A coronal mass ejection

The Solar atmosphere is all about magnetism, sunspots, flares, prominences, coronal mass ejections…it’s all magnetism. The Sun is one big mass of twisted and contorted magnetic fields, these fields can be put under immense stress, similar to when you twist and twist up an elastic band. The magnetic field contains a lot of power, and when they snap they can throw out huge bubbles of superheated plasma in a coronal mass ejection. This large mass of Sun stuff races out into the solar system, slamming into planets and satellites. When this stream of solar particles hits the Earth we get colourful aurora in northern and southern latitudes. 

John Brady

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  1. That is amazing and the sun looks so small compared to the massive explosions its creating.

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