SDO Observes Massive Eruption, Scorching Rain

Nasa have followed up the stunning first light images from the Solar Dynamics Observatory [SDO] with equally impressive footage of a magnetic filament erupting on April 19th. Here the Solar Dynamics Observatory zoomed in on a magnetic filament erupting on April 19th. The black “hair-like object” is a speck of dust on the CCD camera. Credit: SDO/AIA.

From the Nasa podcast

“SDO has just observed a massive eruption on the sun—one of the biggest in years,” says Lika Guhathakurta of NASA headquarters in Washington DC. “The footage is not only dramatic, but also could solve a longstanding mystery of solar physics.” Karel Schrijver of Lockheed Martin’s Solar and Astrophysics Lab is leading the analysis. “We can see a billion tons of magnetized plasma blasting into space while debris from the explosion falls back onto the sun surface. These may be our best data yet.”

The movie, recorded on April 19th, spans four hours of actual time and more than 100,000 km of linear space. “It’s huge,” says Schrijver. Indeed, the entire planet Earth could fit between the plasma streamers with room to spare.

And here’s a color-coded temperature movie of the eruption. Red and oranges are cool (60,000 K – 80,000 K); blues and greens are hot (1,000,000 – 2,200,000 K). The black “hair-like object” is a speck of dust on the CCD camera. Credit: SDO/AIA.

And here’s the full disc view of the sun during the eruption. Credit: SDO/AIA.

Back to the Nasa podcast

Schrijver says his favorite part of the movie is the coronal rain. “Blobs of plasma are falling back to the surface of the sun, making bright splashes where they hit,” he explains. “This is a phenomenon I’ve been studying for years.”

Coronal rain has long been a mystery. It’s not surprising that plasma should fall back to the sun. After all, the sun’s gravity is powerful. The puzzle of coronal rain is how slowly it seems to fall. “The sun’s gravity should be pulling the material down much faster than it actually moves. What’s slowing the descent?” he wonders.

For the first time, SDO provides an answer.

“The rain appears to be buoyed by a ‘cushion’ of hot gas,” says Schrijver. “Previous observatories couldn’t see it, but it is there.”

And Since it’s the first time I’ve used it, I should note the thumbnail on this post was Nasa’s Astronomy Picture of the Day 23rd April