Home > solar dynamics observatory, The Sun > What exploded on the sun last Thursday morning?

What exploded on the sun last Thursday morning?

March 2nd, 2011


The eruption that occurred on the sun last week, February 24, was many times larger than Earth in scale and represented a tremendous release of energy. But what exactly happened? Here is a wide view of the event:

This type of event is called a prominence eruption. It occurs in the extended, hot outer atmosphere of the sun, called the corona. The material that appears to glow red is plasma, a mix of electrically charged hydrogen and helium.

OK, now let’s take a closer look. Here is a close-up view of the prominence:

The plasma is flowing along a tangled and twisted structure of magnetic fields generated by the sun’s internal dynamo. Prominences occur when such a structure becomes unstable and bursts outward, releasing plasma.

At Goddard, Holly Gilbert is one of the physicists trying to understand what triggers such explosive events. We have a pretty good idea of what prominence eruptions are, but less of a clear idea of what causes them.

“Here you have a magnetic structure that holds prominence plasma and somehow become unstable and erupts,” Gilbert says, “and by doing so you get this beautiful structure not only flying outward and escaping the gravitational field, but only also draining back because the magnetic topology allows it to do so. What we’re not sure of is what is initiating the eruption.”

In the video, the event appears to stop and start playing backward. But this is not so. Actually, plasma is falling back toward the sun and flowing along the complex surfaces formed by magnetism around the sun.

“It is not uncommon for prominence material to drain back to the surface as well as escape during an eruption,” Gilbert says. “In fact, it’s a little strange when ALL of the mass escapes. Prominences are large structures, so once the magnetic fields supporting the mass are stretched out so that they are more vertical, it allows an easy path for some of the mass to drain back down.”

This particular eruption was not directed toward Earth. If it were, the material released and its imprinted magnetic field might have triggered a geomagnetic storm, with bright auroras and the potential for disturbance in communications and electrical power networks. Scientists at NASA study such “space weather” events intensely in hopes of predicting them better someday.

OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.

  1. jhoonbe
    March 2nd, 2011 at 10:28 | #1

    How often does this occur? If directed towards earth, would it eliminate our solar shield?

    • dpendick
      March 2nd, 2011 at 10:31 | #2

      Prominence eruptions don’t happen at any set rate. Solar activity follows a 11-13 year cycle, and things are currently heating up. You will be seeing more and more events for the next few years.

      When material from the sun, a “coronal mass ejection,” pass by Earth, they do not destroy our magnetosphere, but they can trigger strong auroras and disturb communication and power networks. If an event were strong enough, a “solar superstorm,” it could knock out power grids temporarily and cause a lot of damage economically. To learn more Google “space weather.”

  2. March 2nd, 2011 at 11:03 | #3

    It is presumptive to assert that this trail of plasma is only ‘falling back’ or ‘being pulled back’ because it appears this way to observers. It is also being ‘pushed back’ if you can open your minds and observations. The universes operate in more than positive and negatives alone. We must consider more that simply what we observe in one period of Time.

  3. March 2nd, 2011 at 11:38 | #4

    in this video sun i shown lk it is hited by somthng nd this time it is hited by another hot object bt smaller than sun which genrate that flames frm the sun making it more hot:xxxx

  4. March 2nd, 2011 at 12:24 | #5

    Do events like this contribute to global warming? If so, how does that coincide with the idea that global warming is mostly caused by man?

    • dpendick
      March 2nd, 2011 at 12:36 | #6

      I know of no evidence for a connection between “space weather” and global warming. The sun’s overall energy output (irradiance) DOES affect climate; but all the evidence to date that we can trust says that solar irradiance does not explain the pattern and degree of global warming that we can measure.

  5. Richard Bramwell
    March 8th, 2011 at 17:54 | #7

    Given that we are in the second of the two coolest periods the Earth has known in the last 600 million years, why worry about Global Warming? Same is true of atm-CO2, levels (when 270 ppm) were approaching the minimum at which plants could survive (180 ppm). Dinosaurs had it good: 5 deg C warmer and (independent of) atm-CO2 exceeding 5000 ppm (5%).

    • dpendick
      March 8th, 2011 at 17:57 | #8

      I think people are concerned about the social and economic suffering that could result from severe and fast climate change. Accent on the word “fast.”

  6. Richard Bramwell
    March 8th, 2011 at 18:00 | #9

    Come on. Uni – means one; verse – means everything. You cannot have more than one of everything. The Multiple Universe concept is a misconstrual of data, &/or a rationalistic mathematical modeling, divorced from reality, reason and proper science.

    As for It is also being ‘pushed back’ if you can open your minds and observations.
    the presumption is yours, until you provide hard facts rather than speculation. Until then, it’s all magnetic fields and gravity at work – great neutralizers of entropy.

  7. pogpog
    May 31st, 2011 at 01:54 | #10

    Uhmm, if something like this happens in a while, i’m sure there will be 10x more prominent bigger & tremendous eruptions in the future. The question is when?

    I believe it will get worse once our solar system aligns on the galactic plane.

    Just my opinion.

Comments are closed.