Our Sun is Awesome
It really is. I mean, nevermind that it comprises over 99% of all the mass in our solar system, that it supplies our planet with the energy needed to sustain life on its surface, that its constantly-blowing solar wind helps keep some of those nasty cosmic particles out of the planetary neighborhood, and that it makes a bright sunshiny day even possible (but remember to wear sunscreen!)… in addition to all that, it’s also just really, really cool.
Watch the video above and you’ll see what I mean.
Contrary to popular belief, the Sun is not a ball of fire. Fire is a process of rapid oxidation – there’s no oxidation occurring on or in the Sun. There’s nothing “on fire.” All those loops and tongues of “flame” and dancing flickers you see in videos from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory are the result of magnetic activity, arcs of magnetic fields that rise up through the Sun’s “surface” and carry superheated plasma and charged ions along with them… in effect making the magnetic fields visible to SDO’s instruments.
The Sun is enormous — 880,000 miles in diameter, a sphere big enough to contain a million Earths — and its magnetic fields are powerful and complex. They rise and fall like ocean waves across its surface, but also can create graceful arcs and twisting “tornadoes” that extend tens of thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands of miles out into space.
On July 19, 2012, SDO captured a looping prominence on the Sun that could dwarf our planet. It rose up from the Sun’s eastern limb after a flare and resulting coronal mass ejection, or CME, forming an arc of solar plasma that grew bright in extreme ultraviolet light but then began to “rain” back down to the surface, a phenomenon known as coronal rain.
It’s not fire, it’s not lava, it’s not even technically a liquid, but on those scales and with that sort of magnetic energy controlling it the behavior of the solar material is truly mesmerizing to watch.
For an idea of timing, each second in the video above corresponds to 6 minutes of real time.
What’s even more amazing to think about is that this isn’t just our Sun that’s acting this way — this is a star we’re looking at here, and as such this is how stars behave. The points of light in the night sky, they all do this too… just very far away. We just happen to have the tools to be able to watch our Sun in ways we never could before and learn how it — and all stars like it — work, from a very convenient distance of 93 million miles.
How awesome is that?
See more images of our nearest star on the SDO website here.