An explosion of plasma on the sun's surface during a violent storm on Nov. 16.
The sun's surface has been especially turbulent in recent years, with flares and other massive discharges shooting up every couple of weeks. And over the weekend, two especially violent solar storms erupted on our star's surface. Solar prominences like the one shown below don't pose a direct danger to Earth, although the radiation from extremely intense storms pointed in our direction can disrupt communication for astronauts and satellites in orbits.
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, which caught the two storms on film, had this to say:
The red-glowing looped material is plasma, a hot gas made of electrically charged hydrogen and helium. The prominence plasma flows along a tangled and twisted structure of magnetic fields generated by the sun’s internal dynamo. An erupting prominence occurs when such a structure becomes unstable and bursts outward, releasing the plasma.
The recent uptick in solar activity is due to the sun's 11-year solar weather cycle, which is expected to reach its climax in 2013. And there is a bright side for we Earthlings, says Tariq Malik at Space.com: Extra-intense geomagnetic storms lead to "supercharged" auroras, making for "spectacular northern lights displays" for sky-watchers at high latitudes.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- China's leader is telling the People's Liberation Army to prepare for war
- The best books we read in 2014
- How I lost all my money
- How to save money: 12 great personal finance tips
- Why Pakistan won't hunt down the terrorists within its borders
- The religious right isn't retreating — it's reforming
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- How to wrap a present with mathematical precision (and waste less paper)
- Diagnosing the Home Alone burglars' injuries: A professional weighs in
- How academia's liberal bias is killing social science
Subscribe to the Week