Million Mile Solar Filament Graces The Surface Of The Sun
Scientists are currently enjoying a filament on the sun that is a million miles (1.6 million kilometers) long. Sinuously snaking over its surface, it’s 100 times the width of the earth and bigger than the sun’s diameter.
Solar filaments are manifestations of the interactions of the suns magnetic field and its incandescent plasma. The loop of a magnetic field suspends the plasma above the suns surface like clouds from hell. You may be wondering how this is related to solar prominences. Actually they are essentially the same thing. It all depends on your perspective. If you see one at an angle such that the background is space, it is called a prominence. They appear red and glowing because of this perspective. If you see it however with the sun’s surface behind it, it is called a filament which appears like a dark crack because, while still very hot, it is relatively cooler than its surroundings. This is why sunspots appear dark.
These structures can persist for days, weeks or even months. Often another magnet field emerges underneath them causing their disruption. Their ultimate fate is variable however. They could for example simply fade away leaving only the pictures we took and fading astronomers memories. They could be a bit more melodramatic and explode. In 2013 for example, a 200,000 mile-long filament exploded and left what NASA called a “canyon of fire“. On the other hand, some explode even more memorably resulting in a CME or Coronal Mass Ejection which could impact earth creating lovely auroral displays and even annoying blackouts and satellite damage (or perhaps far far worse ).
Image Credit: Nasa