Bad Astronomy

The Sun blows some gas to Venus

On November 15, the Sun had a minor eruption on its surface that launched a prominence – a towering arc of ionized gas – into space. Sometimes these prominences collapse back down to the surface, and sometimes they wind up ejecting that material into space. This one did a little of both:

The animation was made from images taken over the course of 13 hours by the Solar Dynamics Observatory. The images are false-color; what you see as orange is really ultraviolet light, where the energized gas glows brilliantly. This particular event sent some gas more or less toward Venus, where probably not much will happen. This isn’t like a major flare or coronal mass ejection… but it’s still cool.

Prominences occur all the time (click the picture here to see a gorgeous one from last year), and generally don’t wind up affecting us here on Earth. Still, it’s fascinating to watch the gas – which is hot enough to have its electrons stripped off its atoms, so it follows the Sun’s magnetic field as strongly or even more strongly than it does the Sun’s gravitational field – writhe and seethe under these tremendous forces.