Is this footage real or is it a deleted scene from Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life? Our Sun is one volatile star. NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory captured glorious high-definition video of our Sun during two separate solar storms on November 16th.
The giant eruptions seen in the video are known as a solar prominence. “The red-glowing looped material is plasma, a hot gas made of electrically charged hydrogen and helium,” said officials at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “The prominence plasma flows along a tangled and twisted structure of magnetic fields generated by the sun’s internal dynamo. An erupting prominence occurs when such a structure becomes unstable and bursts outward, releasing the plasma.”
Luckily, the solar eruptions had no effect on the Earth other than supercharging and intensifying the Earth’s Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights. If the Sun’s powerful solar flares and eruptions were aimed directly towards the Earth, satellites and astronauts in orbit could feel the effects. It could interfere with communication, navigation, and power systems on the ground.
The Sun is currently in the middle cycle of the active phase of its 11-year solar weather cycle. The cycle is called Solar Cycle 24 and is expected to hit its peak sometime in 2013. This is the 24th solar cycle in modern times since astronomers started recording the Sun’s cycles in 1755.
It’s amazing to think about how far we’ve come as a species if we’re actively recording how the Sun works and its beauty on high definition video.