NASA Shows off Coronal Mass Ejection Erupting from Sun (Video)

First Posted: Feb 01, 2013 11:20 AM EST

An explosion of light burst off of the lower right limb of the sun in July. Although these explosions usually bring an eruption of solar material known as coronal mass ejection (CME), this one did not. Something else happened. Magnetic field lines in this area of the sun's atmosphere, the corona, began to twist and turn, generating the hottest solar material--plasma. This plasma then began to glow brightly, creating an extraordinary sight.

With the help of NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly was able to capture images of this event. Angelos Vourlidas and colleagues were able to witness for the first time the formation of a flux rope--something they had long theorized was at the heart of many eruptive events on the sun. A few hours later, the same region flared again and this time, the flux rope's connection to the sun severed. The magnetic fields escaped into space and caused a CME.

CMEs can cause a space weather phenomenon called a geomagnetic storm. This occurs when they connect with the outside of the Earth's magnetic envelope, the magnetosphere, for an extended period of time. This can cause auroras near the poles, but doesn't usual disrupt electrical systems on Earth or interfere with communications systems.

This observation offered at least one case study on how a CME forms. Flux ropes have been seen in images of CMEs as they fly away from the sun before, but it has never been known whether the flux rope formed before or in conjunction with the creation of a CME. Yet this particular case showed that the flux rope actually formed ahead of time. It could provide insights to help scientists develop ways to predict CMEs.

Yet this particular CME isn't the most recent. NASA recently observed a CME event take place on January 31. The CME left the sun at speeds of around 575 miles per second-fairly typical for this type of phenomenon. It was observed by the Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory and ESA/NASA's Solar and Heliospheric Observatory.

The findings are published in the Astrophysical Journal.

Want to see a CME in action? Check out the video here.

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