A fiery angel erupts from the Sun

By Phil Plait | July 28, 2011 12:27 pm

When you build and launch a high-resolution solar observatory that stares at the Sun 24 hours a day, you’re bound to catch some pretty cool stuff. As proof, check out this video of a stunning prominence erupting from the Sun’s surface on July 12, 2011, as seen by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory:

[Make sure you set the resolution to at least 720p.]

That’s really graceful, especially considering that tower reached the staggering height of about 150,000 km (90,000 miles) above the Sun in just a few minutes!

The gas on the Sun is ionized, which means it’s had one or more electrons ripped away from its atoms. Technically called a plasma, this makes it sensitive to the Sun’s strong magnetic forces. That becomes really obvious after it starts to collapse; it doesn’t follow a ballistic trajectory like you’d expect (the path a ball thrown up in the air would follow), but instead flows along the Sun’s magnetic field lines. This video is in the ultraviolet, where such a plasma glows brightly.

For a moment there, just at its peak, it coincidentally looks like a classic angel with wings spread. Of course, once the angel dissolves it forms more of an arc… so I guess this makes it an archangel. I’m glad no one heard a trumpet playing when this happened. That could’ve been awkward.

Credit: NASA/SDO


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kaBLAM! Footage of the X-class flare

Comments (42)

  1. Steve

    That sure is “a cute” angle…er…angel.

  2. Neal

    Wow, it got 0.1% of the way to the Earth’s orbit!

  3. DrFlimmer

    I’m glad no one heard a trumpet playing when this happened. That could’ve been awkward.

    Only if that angel would’ve been named Michael. ;)

  4. Freerefill

    I’m not seeing the angel… maybe it’s just me.

    Also, “arc” angel?

    *takes out a trumpet*

    wah-wah-waaahhhhh….

  5. Keith Bowden

    I don’t really see it either. I see the point where I think Phil sees it, but it just looks like random loops and swirls to me, too. :)

  6. Chris

    While researching something my 6-year-old daughter asked me (sheesh, kid, ask easier questions!) I realized that 50 years from today will be the closest approach of Halley’s Comet in 2061.

    So, umm.. buy a big calendar and mark it.

  7. QuietDesperation

    o.O

    Did Phil leave his PC on, and Rick Perry snuck in to write a post?

    While researching something my 6-year-old daughter asked me (sheesh, kid, ask easier questions!)

    Opportunity to teach her to do her own research.

  8. Chris

    @6:

    I went and looked at the article and did about 3 minutes of Googling the authors:

    They published this in some online-only Remote Sensing journal — not a Climatology or even a physical sciences journal. Spencer’s a longtime climate change denialist who’s paid heartily by the anti-GW lecture circuit since he’s one of the few of them who actually works in the field. His co-author’s an Electrical Engineer.

    I’ll go and actually evaluate the article now, but take this with a grain of salt. I’m highly skptical to begin with.

  9. prayer765

    I SEE IT.

    HINT; THE RED FLAMES DOWN MAKE THE WINGS (SIDE PERSPECTIVE) AND THE LITTLE FLAME UP ABOVE THE HEAD. IT LOOKS LIKE THE ANGEL IS WALKING TOWARDS THE SUN, EVEN, ENTERING IN THERE.

    THANK YOU PROFESSOR PLAIT FOR SPREADING THIS AND LETTING PEOPLE KNOW THERE ARE STILL CHRISTIANS ON AMERICA SCIENCE LIKE US. THIS DAYS IT SEEMS IF YOU DON’T BELEIVE IN THE *THEORY* (HAHA SUCK IT ATEHISTS) OF EVOLUTION YOUR NOT A SCIENTIST OR YOU DON’T CARE ABOUT SCIENCE STUFF YOU’VE SHOWED THEM.

  10. @John Moore, it’s not an official NASA report and – despite what the headline says – the data are not “new.” It’s a study by a known climate change denier.

    This is a case of the headline writer showing a bias, on top of what one might expect to be a bias on the part of the person who conducted the study.

    Nothing much to see here. Just more of the same ol’ denying the nose on our face.

    Deborah

  11. Chris

    The article uses “alarmist” about 50 times. It’s laughable.

    And yes, the article itself is crap. I have enough physics and chemistry to see the fundamental flaw, but I don’t have enough climate science to know what the correct rebuttal is.

  12. P.S. I see the angel, Phil. Nice!

  13. prayer765 (#10): I’m afraid you have quite a few misconceptions about me and this post. I’m not a Christian, I do think evolution is correct, you can still be a good Christian and believe in the veracity of evolution, and I’m not a professor.

    Also, I tagged this post under “pareidolia”, which is a well-known psychological effect of seeing shapes (usually faces) in random patterns. That’s all this is. I was toying with the idea of saying this looked more like Tinkerbell from the Disney animated movies, but went with angel instead.

    I have quit a few religious people who read this blog, and I’m glad for it. Science is for everyone.

  14. John Sandlin

    I don’t see any angels. A fiery phoenix bird, yes, but no angels.

  15. RwFlynn

    I love the way it twisted it’s way upwards before taking on the angel shape. Very beautiful.

  16. RwFlynn

    @ 14. Phil Plait
    ” prayer765 (#10): I’m afraid you have quite a few misconceptions about me and this post ….”

    Wow. I’m calling Poe on that one.

  17. Badger3k

    I have to join the rest in saying “Don’t see it.” Maybe stop the video at the point where it supposedly looks like a winged creature.

    As for prayer – what does it say if you have a “winged angel” that is (a) made of “fire” and (b) dissolves into a “lake of fire”, so to speak? Is this evidence that Voldemort, er, Satan, is real, and living in the sun?

  18. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ Badger3k : This angel would have to be Lucifer right? Made of fire at the depths of our Solar systems largest gravity well pit, and “fallen” back into it! ;-)

    Still a magnificent sight. :-)

    @2. John Moore : Some advice for you please wait for a more appropriate thread that’s actually about the Anthropogenic Global Warming Effect instead of posting off topic stuff like that. Phil Plait does post one every now and then y’know. :roll:

    Also please do some further research on the whole issue of Human Caused Global Overheating.

  19. Messier Tidy Upper

    @2. John Moore – Here you go, please see :

    http://scienceblogs.com/startswithabang/2011/06/the_global_warming_crisis.php

    &

    http://www.skepticalscience.com/argument.php

    & from this very blog :

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2010/10/26/climate-change-the-evidence/

    these are just a few places for you to start. Read what is said there, follow some of tehlinks within those and elsewhere and reflect on what information is provided there and what it means for a while please.

  20. Naomi

    “Of course, once the angel dissolves it forms more of an arc… so I guess this makes it an archangel.”

    No trumpets, but I did hear a rimshot!

    I’m calling parody on #10.

  21. Messier Tidy Upper

    Oh & just three more for you :

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/tag/climate-change/

    and scroll down for the BA’s posts on Climate Change here.

    See :

    http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=potholer54+climate+change&aq=2&oq=Potholer54

    &

    http://greenfyre.wordpress.com/climate-denial-crock-of-the-week/#sense

    Please watch your way through all of those youtube clips inthose two series. Its worth doing and they’re very informative and entertaining and well worth it.

    Oh & John Moore, I used to be a climate chage contrarian myself once a few years ago. Arguing about it on this blog is one of the reasons I changed my mind. So please do stick around and argue your case if you want to where it’s appropriate – just keep it in the right threads and please, after you’ve seen & considered the material provided here for you. :-)

  22. It appears that the angel is summoned from the flames, emerging and spreading its wings before its soul is captured from its chest, at which point its ethereal corpse withers back into the fiery orb from whence it came while its soul remains hovering in an arc above the surface. We may have just witnessed the punishment meted out by the divine for disobedience.

  23. Mike

    Phil,
    Your reply to prayer765 (#10), proves that once more, you are a gentleman.

    I thank you for the ever-gorgeous images and videos you post. I sometimes don’t see in them the same things you do (time-lapse videos get a little redundant over time, but that’s just me), but I love that you’re able to appreciate the subliminal beauty of the subluminal!

  24. Daniel J. Andrews

    Ditto what Mike says re: Phil being a gentleman (although I do suspect prayer’s a Poe).

    John, Messier has some good links. Skeptical Science, which he listed, is an excellent place to find science-based evidence to pretty much all denier claims out there. I’d also recommend…

    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2007/05/start-here/

    which is run by working climate scientists in different disciplines. They have put together a START HERE tab from their home page which is designed for people with little to no knowledge of the basics of climate. Once you gain more knowledge, you might enjoy reading some of their regular posts. I’d suggest you not get your science from news groups, think tanks or political sites…there is a long history of distortion and fabrication there starting from the 50s and 60s. Go to reliable scientific institutions when you can.

  25. At least it’s a fiery angel and not a weeping angel! Don’t blink! ;-)

    (Do click my name for the trailer on Youtube if you’d like though.)

    Question : Is the term “pareidolia” limited to seeing faces in inaminate non-facial things or does it apply to humanoid (angeloid?) looking patterns like this too?

  26. DrFlimmer

    Since we are already mentioning global warming: What about this one?

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn20739-ok-climate-sceptics-heres-the-raw-data-you-wanted.html

    Now, go ahead you “sceptics” and perform the analyses yourselves….

  27. uudale

    Hmmm…

    It sort of looks like a pterodactyl to me.

  28. Themiscyra

    Well, HAD that prominence been an archangel blowing a trumpet, the sound hardly would have carried, would it? In space, no one can hear you prove the nonexistence of God by providing incontrovertible proof of His existence (q.v. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy). ;)

  29. Chris

    QALSO GRAVITY IS JUST A THEORY HA! WHEN WE ALL FALL UP TO HEAVEN ON MAY^W OCTOBER 21 SCIENCE WILL GO OH NO WE SHOULD HAVE LISSEND!!!1111ONE ONE ONE

    Sorry, couldn’t resist.

  30. Maria

    Some days I think it’s enough to just say, “oooo pretty.”

  31. Joel

    but nobody has mentioned the DailyKos article where I first saw this video, which talks about the unexpected change in solar behavior
    ?

  32. Joel
  33. Joseph

    A stream of fire longer then our planet is wide.

    Terrifyingly Beautiful.

  34. critter42

    Hahaha! I don’t know if it is keying of the video title, but I had to laugh when the video ran with a Lady Gaga ad on it. LOL

  35. JOE

    THATS NO ANGEL. THATS THE SUNS ALL SPARK. ITS INCREDIBLE HOW PEOPLE WANT TO SEE THINGS THAT DO NOT EXSIST

  36. Naomi

    DrFlimmer @ 27,

    ‘Sceptic’ is actually the correct Commonwealth spelling. Now, I personally actually think ‘skeptic’ looks better, so it’s one of the few times I willingly use American spelling over Commonwealth, but it’s not incorrect.

  37. Ok2panic

    Im thinking it looks more like a Phoenix than an angel. And since I’m not a solar scientist, what are the arch looking loops next to the Phoenix?

  38. UmTutSut

    I can see the face of Amy Winehouse in the surface whorls….

  39. Isaac

    When does ionized gas become a plasma?

  40. reidh

    Considering that the word “Angel” comes from the greek from the persian meaning messenger, and as a messenger of Fire I would say the Sun is doing a great job. BTW, I think all of these super flares are contributing more to the overall warming of the world climate than all of the burnt oil in China. The problem is PROOVING it.

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