Twisters on the sun spotted by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory April 29-30
Imagine a tornado larger than the Earth made of incandescent hydrogen gas. If you’re having trouble, just watch the video. NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory took a series of photos on April 29 and 30 to create this awesome movie of a whirling plasma tornado flung into space. Such beautiful violence.
Plasma’s one of the four states of matter after solid, liquid and gas and perhaps surprisingly, the most common. That’s because stars are made of the stuff. Most gases we’re familiar with are neutral, but plasma is a gas made of charged particles – positive ions and negative electrons. It not only conducts electricity but under the influence of a magnetic field it can form flame-like filaments called prominences. Guess what’s got magnetism to spare? The sun of course.
That’s what you see in the video but only in ultraviolet light. Prominences are also visible with the naked eye during a total solar eclipse when they appear as pink flames around the the sun’s edge. With the right filters, they can viewed anytime the sun is out.
Plasma/prominences can remain suspended for hours by magnetic fields like fire floating on air, but watch out. Competing magnetic forces can sometimes pull and stretch a prominence until BOING, it’s flung off the sun and into space.
Another plasma “tornado” on the sun from Sept. 25, 2011
You can see the twisted strands of plasma shift back and forth before the whole mass gets the boot. The prominence appears dark in the images taken in ultraviolet light because it’s cooler than its surroundings. As the video demonstrates, these are dramatic events, and they happen regularly on our turbulent star.