With all this miserable drizzle and cloudiness we can't seem to shake, I thought blog readers might enjoy a peak at the sun - and one of the most astonishing solar eruptions in memory. It's a "coronal mass ejection," photographed late last week by the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO), which is operated by NASA and the European Space Agency. SOHO stares constantly at the sun from a spot one million miles sunward from the Earth. The white circle in the image represents the outline of the sun itself, which is hidden behind a "coronagraph" that blocks the sun's direct light and allows the sun's outer atmosphere, or corona, to become visible. The bright filaments to the left are solar debris, hurled away from the sun by the eruption. Here's how Pal Brekke, of the Norwegian Space Centre, described it:
"A series of three significant coronal mass ejections (CMEs) occurred within 36 hours on Dec. 30 - 31, 2004 all of which seemed to have Active Region 715 as their source. (CMEs are large solar storms, not uncommon, that blast billions of tons of particles into space at millions of kilometers per hours.) But the real story this week lies is the second of the three CMEs. The structure of the CME is strongly defined by multiple white strands of plasma that seem to elongate and linger in the frame longer than anyone can remember seeing. The pieces appear almost like shreds of torn clothing after something ripped through it. They clearly illustrate how a CME drags pieces of the Suns magnetic field out in space. From the beginning of the event until the last strand disappears over nine hours elapse. The result is a ... a CME that ranks among the most interesting that SOHO has observed."