Categories: Solar Astronomysun

Watch an Enormous “Plasma Snake” Erupt from the Sun

Over the course of April 28–29 a gigantic filament, briefly suspended above the surface* of the Sun, broke off and created an enormous snakelike eruption of plasma that extended millions of miles out into space. The event was both powerful and beautiful, another demonstration of the incredible energy and activity of our home star…and it was all captured on camera by two of our finest Sun-watching spacecraft.

Watch a video of the event below.

Made from data acquired by both NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) and the joint ESA/NASA SOHO spacecraft, the video was compiled by astronomer and sungrazing comet specialist Karl Battams. It shows views of the huge filament before and after detaching from the Sun, and gives a sense of the enormous scale of the event.

At one point the plasma eruption spanned a distance over 33 times farther than the Moon is from Earth!

Filaments are long channels of solar material contained by magnetic fields that have risen up from within the Sun. They are relatively cooler than the visible face of the Sun behind them so they appear dark when silhouetted against it; when seen rising from the Sun’s limb they look bright and are called prominences.

When the magnetic field lines break apart, much of the material contained within the filaments gets flung out into space (a.k.a. a CME) while some gets pulled back down into the Sun. These events are fairly common but that doesn’t make them any less spectacular!

Also read: Watch the Sun Split Apart

This same particularly long filament has also been featured as the Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD), in a photo captured on April 27 by Göran Strand.

For more solar news follow Karl Battams on Twitter.

Image credits: ESA/NASA/SOHO & SDO/NASA and the AIA science team.

*The Sun, being a mass of incandescent gas, doesn’t have a “surface” like rocky planets do so in this case we’re referring to its photosphere and chromosphere.

Jason Major

A graphic designer in Rhode Island, Jason writes about space exploration on his blog Lights In The Dark, Discovery News, and, of course, here on Universe Today. Ad astra!

View Comments

  • Surf's up! Geeze, catch a ride on that wave and you would be going places! There is a new type of solar sail being developed that is not your typical mylar umbrella shape. Instead... it is an array of electro conductive micro fibres that are deployed via centrifugal forces. A VERY interesting concept to capture the electric potential within the solar wind which is then used to power a Hall thrust type ion engine. Imagine how much power could be captured with an outburst this big! Check it out @:

    MY concept uses a 10km geodesic frame made with superconducting struts, to generate a magnetic bubble... the bubble might be propagated into some 10,000 km dia as emitted by this gigantic antenna. And MIGHT be powered by a 200 mw fission reactor? This huge mag. field/bubble would then be captured or swept up and carried along at a large percentage of the burst's velocity?! Question is, which concept would prove to be more 'steerable'? OR how could the two ideas be co-joined?
    Perhaps with VASMIR-type engines?

    • What they do is they charge the wires with either + or - charges.
      Assume that you charge the wires +, then each wire will be repelled by the nearby wire since it contains the same charge. So the wires becomes an umbrella with a electric charge +.

      When an + charge is coming from the Sun then it will also be repelled by the electric field. So it some kind bumps into the electric field and adds speed to the space craft.

      However solar wind also has the opposite charge. That opposite charge will cancel the positive charge of the charged wires and even reduce it's speed because it is pulling it back. Then net effect would become zero.

      • Are there equal numbers of positive & negative charges in the solar wind ?
        Edit: just checked and yes the solar wind has an overall neutral charge.

        • Keywords here are: Current sheet and Parker angle. The solar wind is a highly ionized MAGNETIZED plasma. Think about what happened during the shuttle tether experiments when the conductive tether melted due to accumulated charge. LOOK at the Earth's aurora's and get a REAL charge. oTay then.. Why does this happen? Sol's charged particles are interacting with the Earth's magnetic field and/or the tether's mag. field. Right? What I want to do is interact with it for propulsion! Let's GO!

  • Wow, looks like quite a big chunk of star heading out. Hope there's something left over so we can enjoy next summer. We're finally getting to up to seventy Fahrenheit here in Michigan. (No thanks to the Polar Vortex for the second year in a row). Hope it's not the new trend.

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