A huge structure on the surface of the sun appears to be breaking apart

A huge structure on the surface of the sun appears to be breaking apart

A space photographer has shared an image of a huge prominence on the surface of the sun that is believed to be breaking apart.

Solar prominences are large glowing loops of plasma – electrically charged hydrogen and helium – that extend outward from the surface of the sun. They can be really massive, sometimes dozens of times larger than Earth.

While solar prominences can take just a day to form, they can be stable enough to persist for months, looping hundreds of thousands of miles through space while anchored to the surface of the sun.

solar prominence
A photo from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory shows a solar prominence emerging from the surface of the sun in March 2010. These prominences can be dozens of times larger than Earth.

Scientists don’t know exactly how solar prominences form, but they are thought to flow along the sun’s tangled and twisted magnetic field lines, according to NASA.

On Sunday, astrophotographer Sebastian Voltmer posted a Tweeter including a photo of what he called a “huge prominence” on the surface of the sun. He added: “It’s impressive, but it was spectacular to see a part moving very quickly through my little refractor telescope – ejecting and coming off to the side.”

Space weather news website spaceweather.com said the photo showed the prominence “could come apart”.

Other solar prominence images taken in the past week can be found on spaceweather.com’s Live Image Gallery.

Voltmer also uploaded video footage showing the prominence in action plus an eruption of material from the sun’s surface. “This huge eruption is 20 times the size of Earth,” he said in the video.

Solar prominences can sometimes disintegrate or collapse completely. This happens when the nearby magnetic field becomes unstable, such as if a new line of magnetic field crosses the surface of the sun below the prominence, David Hathaway, a solar physicist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, told spaceweather.com.

The collapse of a solar prominence can cause an explosion of material away from the sun that releases what is called a Hyder flare, named after astrophysicist Charles Hyder who studied these events.

It is important to note that astrophotographers taking images of solar prominences or any other image of the sun use special filters that allow them to do so safely. Looking at the sun directly and without adequate protection can burn the retina of the eye, leaving a permanent blind spot according to Sky & Telescope magazine.

Solar prominences should not be confused with solar flares, which are sudden flashes of light and radiation emitted by tangled magnetic field lines near dark areas of the sun called sunspots.

They should also not be confused with coronal mass ejections, which are large clouds of charged solar particles that can interact with the Earth’s atmosphere and cause a geomagnetic storm.

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