Fireworks of the Sun make spectacular display

Scientists say the sun is due for a major burst of activity in the next two to three years. And for everyday things we sometimes take for granted, the stakes are high.Airline flights, oil drilling, even GPS systems could take a hit if the Earth encounters a strong burst of solar rays.
Fireworks of the Sun make spectacular display
In this x-ray photo provided by NASA, the sun is shown early in the morning of Sunday, August 1, 2010. The dark arc near the top right edge of the image is a filament of plasma blasting off the surface - part of the coronal mass ejection. The bright region is an unassociated solar flare. When particles from the eruption reach Earth on the evening of August 3-4, they may trigger a brilliant auroral display known as the Northern Lights. (Photo: AP/NASA)
Fireworks of the Sun make spectacular display
On August 1st, almost the entire Earth-facing side of the sun erupted in a tumult of activity. There was a C3-class solar flare, a solar tsunami, multiple filaments of magnetism lifting off the stellar surface, large-scale shaking of the solar corona, radio bursts, a coronal mass ejection and more. This extreme ultraviolet snapshot from the Solar Dynamics Observatory shows the sun's northern hemisphere in mid-eruption. Different colors in the image represent different gas temperatures ranging from ~1 to 2 million degrees K. (Text and Photo: NASA/SDO)
Fireworks of the Sun make spectacular display
On August 1st around 0855 UT, Earth orbiting satellites detected a C3-class solar flare. The origin of the blast was Earth-facing sunspot 1092. C-class solar flares are small and usually have few noticeable consequences here on Earth besides aurorae. This one has spawned a coronal mass ejection heading in Earth's direction. This new image from the Solar Dynamics Observatory's Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) shows in great detail a solar prominence taken from a March 30, 2010 eruption. The twisting motion of the material is the most noticeable feature. Launched on February 11, 2010, SDO is the most advanced spacecraft ever designed to study the sun. (Text and Photo: NASA/SDO)
Fireworks of the Sun make spectacular display
Coronal mass ejections (or CMEs) are large clouds of charged particles that are ejected from the Sun over the course of several hours and can carry up to ten billion tons (1016 grams) of plasma. They expand away from the Sun at speeds as high as a million miles an hour. A CME can make the 93-million-mile journey to Earth in just three to four days. At the time of this snapshot taken on Friday, March 12, the eruptive prominence was over 700,000 km (420,000 miles across), over 50 times the Earth's diameter. That's like measuring the length of 50 Earth's standing side-by-side! Even more, the plasma was moving at a rate of over 75,000 km per hour (50,000 mph).(Text and Photo: NASA/SDO)
Fireworks of the Sun make spectacular display
When a coronal mass ejection reaches Earth, it interacts with our planet's magnetic field, potentially creating a geomagnetic storm. Solar particles stream down the field lines toward Earth's poles and collide with atoms of nitrogen and oxygen in the atmosphere, resulting in spectacular auroral displays. The STEREO (Ahead) spacecraft caught this spectacular eruptive prominence in extreme UV light as it blasted away from the Sun (Apr. 12-13, 2010). This was certainly among the largest prominence eruptions seen by either NASA's STEREO or SOHO missions. (Text and Photo: NASA/SDO)
Fireworks of the Sun make spectacular display
Scientists said residents of northern regions - from Maine to Michigan and anywhere farther north around the globe - may see unusual northern lights. Usually only regions closer to the Arctic can see the aurora of rippling reds and greens, but solar storms pull them south. A SDO/AIA Zoom-out photo sequence of Launching Filament (band 304). In the following photographs the view of the filament launch loops several times before pulling out to show the full solar disk. (Photo: NASA/SDO)
Fireworks of the Sun make spectacular display
The federal Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colorado, said the plasma will likely arrive late Tuesday night or early Wednesday. The storms are not much of a threat to satellites or power grids. Until recently, the sun was in a phase with few storms. (Photo: NASA/SDO)
Fireworks of the Sun make spectacular display
The Sun's "surface" - the photosphere - is a 500-kilometer-thick (300-mile-thick) region, from which most of the Sun's radiation escapes outward and is detected as the sunlight we observe here on Earth about eight minutes after it leaves the Sun.(Text and Photo: NASA/SDO)
Fireworks of the Sun make spectacular display
Sunspots in the photosphere are areas with strong magnetic fields that are cooler, and thus darker, than the surrounding region. (Text and Photo Credit: NASA/SDO)
Fireworks of the Sun make spectacular display
The number of sunspots goes up and down every 11 years as part of the Sun's magnetic activity cycle. Also connected to this cycle are bright solar flares and huge coronal mass ejections that blast off the Sun. (Text and Photo: NASA/SDO)
Fireworks of the Sun make spectacular display
According to NASA, this type of eruption is one of the first signs that the sun is waking up and heading toward another solar maximum, which is expected in 2013. The last solar maximum was in 2001. (Photo: NASA/SDO)
Fireworks of the Sun make spectacular display
Some of the images from the SDO spacecraft show never-before-seen detail of material streaming outward and away from sunspots. Others show extreme close-ups of activity on the sun's surface. The spacecraft also has made the first high-resolution measurements of solar flares in a broad range of extreme ultraviolet wavelengths. (Photo: NASA/SDO)
Fireworks of the Sun make spectacular display
Stills from the AIA instrument on SDO. They show the March prominence eruption captured just after the AIA sensors were activated. All images are from the ultraviolet part of the spectrum. (Photo: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio)
Fireworks of the Sun make spectacular display
Stills from the AIA instrument on SDO. They show the March prominence eruption captured just after the AIA sensors were activated. All images are from the ultraviolet part of the spectrum. (Photo: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio)
Fireworks of the Sun make spectacular display
Stills from the AIA instrument on SDO. They show the March prominence eruption captured just after the AIA sensors were activated. All images are from the ultraviolet part of the spectrum. (Photo: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio)
Fireworks of the Sun make spectacular display
Stills of the solar prominence eruption from the SDO AIA 304-171-211. (Photo: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio)
Fireworks of the Sun make spectacular display
Stills of the solar prominence eruption from the SDO AIA 304-171-211. (Photo: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio)
Fireworks of the Sun make spectacular display
STEREO's First View of the Sun: Loops of highly charged particles burst from the sun's surface in this image, taken on December 4, 2006. Among the first images taken by STEREO, NASA's twin Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory spacecraft, the image shows the sun's roiling surface and atmosphere at temperatures around one million Kelvin (1.8 million degrees Fahrenheit). (Photo: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio)
Fireworks of the Sun make spectacular display
A full-disk multiwavelength extreme ultraviolet image of the sun taken by SDO on March 30, 2010. False colors trace different gas temperatures. Reds are relatively cool (about 60,000 Kelvin, or 107,540 F); blues and greens are hotter (greater than 1 million Kelvin, or 1,799,540 F). (Photo: NASA/Goddard/SDO AIA Team)
Fireworks of the Sun make spectacular display
Solar Minimum from SOHO/EIT: The seen as Sun seen at the minimum of solar activity. These images are collected in ultraviolet light which is only visible to space-based instruments. In visible light, few to no sunspots would be visible. At solar minimum, we see few bright active regions. The mottled look is from small 'hot spots' which last less than 48 hours. There are dark regions at the top and bottom of the Sun (corresponding to the north and south solar poles) created by solar magnetic field lines that connect to the interstellar magnetic field. A similar dark region, below the solar equator, is called a coronal hole, where open magnetic field lines enable particles to stream away at high speeds. (Photo: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio)
Fireworks of the Sun make spectacular display
Solar Maximum from SOHO/EIT: The Sun as it looks at maximum solar activity. At solar maximum, we see many bright active regions which tend to form in bands in the northern and southern hemispheres. Many of the active regions may eventually launch solar flares or coronal mass ejections (CME). (Photo: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio)
Fireworks of the Sun make spectacular display
The TRACE spacecraft observes an X-ray flare over solar active region AR9906, April 21, 2002. (Photo: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio)

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