Gargantuan Explosion Rips Open a Canyon of Fire on the Sun

By Tom Yulsman | November 8, 2013 3:34 pm

A filament of plasma 25 times bigger than the Earth exploded from the sun recently, leaving behind this temporary burning gash in the solar corona. (Image: NASA/Solar Dynamics Observatory)

The sun really has been acting up lately. In October, solar activity jumped to its highest level in two years, with a large uptick in the number of sunspots and a concomitant rise in flares and giant eruptions of plasma from the sun’s surface.

Photographed by Minoru Yoneto on October 3, 2013 in Queenstown, New Zealand. (Source: NASA)

The image above shows the immediate aftermath of one such eruption. Captured by the Solar Dynamics Observatory satellite, or SDO, it shows what NASA describes as a “canyon of fire” left behind after a 200,000 mile long filament exploded outward through the sun’s atmosphere, called the corona.

As for what happens here on Earth when the sun acts up, click on the thumbnail at right. The photo shows the aurora australis, or southern lights, in New Zealand, following an Earth-directed coronal mass ejection. This CME hit Earth’s magnetic field on Oct. 2, causing a mild geomagnetic storm, producing aurorae in both the northern and southern hemispheres.

Back to that filament eruption, here’s a dramatic video showing different views of it, including extreme closeups:

As a child of the ’60s, I have to be careful not to get to0 mesmerized by this…

In all seriousness, the animation is based on SDO images captured between September 29th and 30th. Here’s an explanation from NASA:

The red images shown in the movie help highlight plasma at temperatures of 90,000° F and are good for observing filaments as they form and erupt. The yellow images, showing temperatures at 1,000,000° F, are useful for observing material coursing along the sun’s magnetic field lines, seen in the movie as an arcade of loops across the area of the eruption. The browner images at the beginning of the movie show material at temperatures of 1,800,000° F, and it is here where the canyon of fire imagery is most obvious.

If that video wasn’t dramatic enough for you, check out this one:

The sun is seen here in extreme ultraviolet light. Over the course of two days, more than a dozen flares and other eruptions occurred, culminating on Oct. 28th in the giant splurge of material seen here.

All this activity has brought things closer to what solar scientists had predicted for this part of the solar cycle. Sunspot numbers were predicted to be building toward a peak round about now, but they’ve pretty much been flat for the past four months. Here’s what the progression of the solar activity cycle is looking like now:

The observed number of solar sunspots is shown by the jagged line. (Source: NASA)

I’m probably headed to the Arctic in Norway in January. So I’m really hoping this will keep up! I’ll be bringing my camera and tripod — as well as an iPod full of Pink Floyd music…



CATEGORIZED UNDER: select, Sun, Top Posts
  • mittens

    “I’m probably headed to the Arctic in Norway in January. So I’m really
    hoping this will keep up! I’ll be bringing my camera and tripod — as
    well as an iPod full of Pink Floyd music…”
    could use only a joint amirite

    • donniagw595

      My Uncle Micah recently
      got a new cream Mercedes GLK-Class Diesel just by parttime work from a macbook.
      pop over here w­w­w.B­I­G­29.c­o­m

  • Uncle Al

    I for one heartily vote in favor of a sustained X9 solar flare and full halo coronal mass ejection burning out civilizations’ hardwired conductive grids. Local magnetic recombination will flush the diversity cache. Then, reboot three billion people with a better OS. Rad (and rem) lightshow, too – down to the Equator.

    • Buddy199

      Uh…I vote against that.

  • Buddy199

    Very, very impressive.

  • Eric Gallant

    I just completed a Q&A with Today’s Facility Manager Magazine on the potential effects of a solar storm on Earth based and near Earth based technology systems. You can read it here;

  • CJay Snyder

    “rips open canyon of fire” FIRE?? REALLY?? FIRE?? I expect better of your publication. You are supposed to be an excellent resource for scientific knowledge, yet you use a title like that? Well wait a sec… I am pretty old and so many new “discoveries” have come to light. I may have missed the one that discoved the chemical reaction we call combustion is now occuring on/in our sun.

    • Tom Yulsman

      C Jay: Jeeze, go grab a cocktail and give me a bleeping break. And while you’re at it, go find a dictionary and look up the word “metaphor.” (“Fire”is, in fact, the very metaphor that NASA came up with, not me.)

      • CJay Snyder

        Such a polite and professional reply to a customer. You’ll go far with that behavior. Did you also write the cover line for this weeks Time magazine?

        • Tom Yulsman

          C Jay, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. So if you don’t want an exasperated response, perhaps think twice BEFORE WRITING RESPONSES IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS. And you might also just think.

          • CJay Snyder

            Sad to see a person who had the intelegence and oppertunity to become an associate professor at the University of Colorado’s School of Journalism & Mass Communication unable to politely accept criticism from a customer of your employer. Yes, writing a reply in all caps can be considered yelling. If I wrote the entire reply in all caps even I would consider it rude. But, considering in this environment we have limited ability to emphasize our thoughts. Your main complaint to my original post is

  • Kevin Miller


  • cracker

    I hope that CME.was not headed towards the earth.



ImaGeo is a visual blog focusing on the intersection of imagery, imagination and Earth. It focuses on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet, with an emphasis (although not an exclusive one) on the unfolding Anthropocene Epoch.

About Tom Yulsman

Tom Yulsman is Director of the Center for Environmental Journalism and a Professor of Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He also continues to work as a science and environmental journalist with more than 30 years of experience producing content for major publications. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Audubon, Climate Central, Columbia Journalism Review, Discover, Nieman Reports, and many other publications. He has held a variety of editorial positions over the years, including a stint as editor-in-chief of Earth magazine. Yulsman has written one book: Origins: the Quest for Our Cosmic Roots, published by the Institute of Physics in 2003.


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