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Mar 282012
 
Filaments and prominences seem relatively small given comparison to the whole of the sun, but the vast loops of energy are massive compared to planets:

Filaments and prominences seem relatively small given comparison to the whole of the sun, but the vast loops of energy are massive compared to planets:

Nor is it a spaceship, a new planet being born or any other overly dramatic explanation.  This is a composite video of images from the Solar Dynamics Observatory showing an unusual dark shape connected to the sun’s surface which appears to be pushed away by a wave of energy.

The ‘dark shape’ is only dark in comparison.  The solar filament pictured is lifted from the sun’s surface by magnetic fields.  The plasma on the Sun’s surface, the photosphere, has an average temperature of 5800 kelvin (almost 10,000°F) but the corona into which this incandescent gas erupts is vastly hotter, one to three million kelvin (an average of about 36,000,000°F).

What’s actually pictured in the first video is more the absence of something than any mystery object – it’s a coronal cavity connected to a filament.  As explained by Dr. C. Alex Young of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, filaments and prominences have a sort of ‘tunnel’ which forms above the visible manifestation – the filament channel – and when seen edge-on, the view is ‘down’ this tunnel.  Dr. Young continues in his video to explain that when a cavity is seen sitting this high, it frequently indicates that the filament is about to erupt.  He provides additional solar footage in different wavelengths and from the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) showing the filament exploding off the face of the sun, complete with leading bubble.

Dr. Young concludes his explanation by praising Solarflare for his keen observation and for creating the opportunity to explain another aspect of solar science to a curious audience.  Every day, the SDO and SOHO provide a wealth of data to help us understand the star which supports life on our small planet.

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