When you build and launch a high-resolution solar observatory that stares at the Sun 24 hours a day, you’re bound to catch some pretty cool stuff. As proof, check out this video of a stunning prominence erupting from the Sun’s surface on July 12, 2011, as seen by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory:
[Make sure you set the resolution to at least 720p.]
That’s really graceful, especially considering that tower reached the staggering height of about 150,000 km (90,000 miles) above the Sun in just a few minutes!
The gas on the Sun is ionized, which means it’s had one or more electrons ripped away from its atoms. Technically called a plasma, this makes it sensitive to the Sun’s strong magnetic forces. That becomes really obvious after it starts to collapse; it doesn’t follow a ballistic trajectory like you’d expect (the path a ball thrown up in the air would follow), but instead flows along the Sun’s magnetic field lines. This video is in the ultraviolet, where such a plasma glows brightly.
For a moment there, just at its peak, it coincidentally looks like a classic angel with wings spread. Of course, once the angel dissolves it forms more of an arc… so I guess this makes it an archangel. I’m glad no one heard a trumpet playing when this happened. That could’ve been awkward.