Arc of dissent

By Phil Plait | December 8, 2010 6:51 am

As long as I’m mea culping… yesterday, I posted a fantastic picture of the Sun showing an enormous arc of material, called a prominence, looping off the Sun. In the post, I mentioned that most of these collapse. But this time, I was wrong: it turns out this one did indeed burst away from the Sun. And you can see it in this animation created from SDO images:

WOW. As you can see, the explosion happened away from us, so it doesn’t look like we’ll be affected by it at all… except, that is, by its utter beauty and mind-crushing size. Remember as you watch that: the Sun is 1.4 million kilometers (860,000 miles) across. When it does something, it does it BIG.

Credit: NASA/SDO

CATEGORIZED UNDER: About this blog, Astronomy, Cool stuff
MORE ABOUT: prominence, SDO, Sun

Comments (30)

  1. critter42

    what kind of effects would we have been looking at if that was aimed right at Earth?

  2. tony

    The sun is awesome. That pretty much sums it up.

  3. That image has been my desktop background since you posted it, Phil. I want the whole movie now!

  4. BicycleRepairMan


    BTW a heads up: Your link back to the original solar post directs me to the “Arsenic and old Universe” story, and not the solar story

  5. mike

    The link to the previous post goes to the previous post, not the previous Sun flare post. You cost me an extra three clicks, you dirty so-and-so!

  6. mike (6): Sorry about that! I fixed the link.

  7. mike

    Well, okay… I’ll let it slide THIS time…

    [grumble, grumble]

  8. Rob

    Is that realtime speed?
    How long would u have to look at another galaxy say Andromeda, taking multiple pictures, to be able to see some change or spin? Or is there too much detail? or just too far away?

  9. Terry

    @Carey: LOL, I made it my desktop too. I had to cut it in half so I could stretch it across two monitors. Looks good actually; sort on non-typical to see an image of the sun above rather than the sun below.

  10. That is absolutely magnificent to see and terrifying to think about!
    No mea culpa necessary. In your post you said “almost” not “all”.

  11. fred edison

    It isn’t too difficult to imagine why people would worship the Sun. The Sun is ginormous and full of light (say what?!). And that’s before we had spectacular OMG views like this one.

  12. David

    We humans think we’re pretty hot stuff. But when you begin to understand how much the sun, comets, asteroids, volcanoes, and climate changes have affected life on earth you come to realize the infinitesimal odds of us being around at all.

  13. Dan

    I blame man-made global warming!

  14. Zucchi

    Holy cats! Easy there, Mr. Sun.

  15. Michel

    “But this time, I was wrong: it turns out this one did indeed burst away from the Sun.”
    We could have been dead you know.
    And that from the death from the sky specialist.
    A few more of these posts and I¬īll become a sceptic.
    You unscared me for nothing.

  16. Gary Ansorge

    1. critter42

    “what kind of effects would we have been looking at if that was aimed right at Earth?”

    Exceptional aurora, possibly some grid outages as the power lines get overloaded by magnetic induction, maybe a bit of degradation of the ozone layer and interference with sat. communications.

    ,,,basically, not much,,,

    Gary 7

  17. Tommy

    @Phil: Now the link is recursive.

  18. kevbo

    @1 & @18

    Don’t forget the benefits. All that magnetic chi flowing around the planet would probably wipe out every known disease. Wayyy better than a wristband.

  19. You weren’t really wrong…MOST of the time they do collapse! You can’t always pick out that one that is going to do something different!

  20. Chris A.

    @Rob (#9):

    “How long would u have to look at another galaxy say Andromeda, taking multiple pictures, to be able to see some change or spin? Or is there too much detail? or just too far away?”

    Galaxies spin far too slowly for us to detect optically. Consider that the Sun takes ~225 M years to orbit the galactic center. In terms of rotation, that’s a bit less than 2 millionths of a degree of progress along its orbit per year. Similar motion viewed in our nearest neighboring spiral (M31, 2.5 Mly away)) would produce motion on the sky of around 30 billionths of a degree per year, or a tenth of a milliarcsecond. That’s several orders of magnitude smaller than the finest detail we can currently resolve with the most advanced imaging optics.

    However, utilizing Very Long Baseline Interferometry techniques with radio telescopes, astronomers have been able to directly detect the motion (both spin and motion through space) of M33 (in the Local Group) over a three year span. But it’s not really the same as taking two pictures and being able to see the difference between them.

  21. Rob @ 9: Hardly real-time. Look at the clock in the lower left corner of the movie. I can’t see the time-stamp for the first 2/3 of the movie because the movieplayer controls cover it, but the last 1/3 cover about two hours – so six hours all in all. Most web-surfers would be pretty bored after 30 seconds of real-time solar footage… :-)
    Cheers, Regner

  22. Jeremy

    As far as I can tell, Solar flares commonly produce a solar prominence, but without the energetic explosion, this particular event was just a prominence?

    Is there another defining factor that I’m missing?

  23. amphiox

    Looking at that and contemplating the relativity of BIG, the thought occurred to me: a comparable prominence on another star (say a star like, oh, Betelgeuse?) could be BIGGER THAN THE SUN!

  24. Robin

    Wish I could put in an order for a little more solar warmth here in coastal South Carolina. Seventeen last night with nightly temps in the twenties and thirties the last two weeks with no end in sight. My sixty-six y.o. bones cant take much more but I did manage a four mile run at noon today; the temp was thirty-four. And no, the political hot air here doesn’t help and, yes, I know that is redundant.

  25. BicycleRepairMan

    18. Tommy Says:
    December 8th, 2010 at 10:27 am
    @Phil: Now the link is recursive.

    LOL. Phil is such a blog-nOOb!

    jk :)

  26. Joseph G

    Recursive link is recursive ūüėÄ

    That’s an awesome video (I sure do use the word “awesome” an awful lot when describing the things I see here!)

    Question: So is this a prominence that turned into a coronal mass ejection? Or something else?

  27. CompaniaHill

    “Arc of dissent”? I gotta ask. Slither? Or Dolan’s Cadillac? :-)

  28. Joseph G

    One thing I really like is the moving time-stamps. I always wonder about the time scale of these astronomical videos. By my count, the video covers a span of time about 225 minutes long. So we’re talking something like 2000x realtime :)

  29. I’d really like to see a version of this in x-ray or UV so you can see what the field lines are doing. Sometimes you can tell by looking at the motion of the prominence, but this one isn’t so obvious.


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