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Thursday, August 5, 2010

Coronal mass ejection

Earlier this week, the sun woke up after a quiescent period of almost a decade. Tons of plasma was blasted our way in an eruption known as a ‘coronal mass ejection’ (CME).

The sun’s corona is the super high temperature plasma ‘atmosphere’ covering the surface of the sun. In fact, at over a million Kelvin, the corona is about 200 times hotter than the sun’s surface. ‘Mass ejection’ is self-explanatory. The spectacular display was captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamic Observatory.

Solar activity normally follows an eleven-year cycle. However, the solar ‘minimum’ that just ended had unusually little activity. It’s not yet known how this will affect the expected upcoming increase in solar activity.

In the video below, you can see the CME move across the top of the sun in a dark arc before blasting off the surface. As CMEs interact with Earth’s magnetic field, geomagnetic storms are created. If you were up and about in the high latitudes, you may have witnessed some spectacular aurorae borealis, or Northern Lights.