By Karen Fox
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/SDO
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This imagery captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory shows a solar flare and a subsequent eruption of solar material that occurred over the left limb of the Sun on November 29, 2020. From its foot point over the limb, some of the light and energy was blocked from reaching Earth – a little like seeing light from a lightbulb with the bottom half covered up.
Also visible in the imagery is an eruption of solar material that achieved escape velocity and moved out into space as a giant cloud of gas and magnetic fields known as a coronal mass ejection, or CME. A third, but invisible, feature of such eruptive events also blew off the Sun: a swarm of fast-moving solar energetic particles. Such particles are guided by the magnetic fields streaming out from the Sun, which, due to the Sun’s constant rotation, point backwards in a big spiral much the way water comes out of a spinning sprinkler. The solar energetic particles, therefore, emerging as they did from a part of the Sun not yet completely rotated into our view, traveled along that magnetic spiral away from Earth toward the other side of the Sun.
While the solar material didn’t head toward Earth, it did pass by some spacecraft: NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, NASA’s STEREO and ESA/NASA’s Solar Orbiter. Equipped to measure magnetic fields and the particles that pass over them, we may be able to study fast-moving solar energetic particles in the observations once they are downloaded. These Sun-watching missions are all part of a larger heliophysics fleet that help us understand both what causes such eruptions on the Sun – as well as how solar activity affects interplanetary space, including near Earth, where they have the potential to affect astronauts and satellites.
To download this video and see other views of the eruption, visit NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio page.