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.
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:
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…