Caption: This is a video of magnetic loops on the sun, captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. It has been processed to highlight the edges of each loop to make the structure more clear. A series of loops such as this is known as a flux rope, and these lie at the heart of eruptions on the sun known as coronal mass ejections (CMEs.) This is the first time scientists were able to discern the timing of a flux rope’s formation. (Blended 131 and 171 angstrom light view of flux rope formation and eruption.)
Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center/SDO
On July 18, 2012, a fairly small explosion of light burst off the lower right limb of the sun. Such flares often come with an associated eruption of solar material, known as a coronal mass ejection or CME – but this one did not. Something interesting did happen, however. Magnetic field lines in this area of the sun’s atmosphere, the corona, began to twist and kink, generating the hottest solar material – a charged gas called plasma – to trace out the newly-formed slinky shape. The plasma glowed brightly in extreme ultraviolet images from the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) aboard NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) and scientists were able to watch for the first time the very formation of something they had long theorized was at the heart of many eruptive events on the sun: a flux rope.
Eight hours later, on July 19, the same region flared again. This time the flux rope’s connection to the sun was severed, and the magnetic fields escaped into space, dragging billions of tons of solar material along for the ride — a classic CME.
“Seeing this structure was amazing,” says Angelos Vourlidas, a solar scientist at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C. “It looks exactly like the cartoon sketches theorists have been drawing of flux ropes since the 1970s. It was a series of figure eights lined up to look like a giant slinky on the sun.” To read more about this new discovery go to: 1.usa.gov/14UHsTt
A strand of solar filament broke away from the Sun and out into space (Jan. 23, 2013). In the STEREO (Behind) spacecraft image, the green Sun (false color) viewed in extreme UV light has been superimposed on the dark disk of the COR1 coronagraph that views activity in the Sun’s corona. Leading the way was the smooth front of a coronal mass ejection, followed by the double strands of plasma, seen in bright, then fainter white as they expand into space. Filaments are unstable clouds of cooler gases that are tethered not far above the Sun. They often break apart as seen here. The movie covers 12 hours of activity.
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NASA Goddard Space Flight Center enables NASA’s mission through four scientific endeavors: Earth Science, Heliophysics, Solar System Exploration, and Astrophysics. Goddard plays a leading role in NASA’s accomplishments by contributing compelling scientific knowledge to advance the Agency’s mission.
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