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Solar Cloud on a Sunny Day
Watch the Solar Blast Credit: NASA/ESA

On May 26, the Sun blasted a huge cloud of gas into space. The SOlar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) spacecraft was watching as a prominence, a cloud of slightly cooler (60,000 K or 107,540 degrees F) gas suspended in the Sun's 2 million degrees Kelvin (3.5 million F) outer atmosphere, suddenly became unstable and erupted from the Sun, as seen in the lower right side in this movie . The same event triggered a flare a quarter of the way around the Sun shortly after. The flare can be seen as a bright area just left of center of the solar disk. More eruptive material can be seen as darker strands crossing the Sun's surface to the right of the flare site. All of these features share a single, invisible connection: the ejection from the Sun of magnetic fields that had constrained the cooler material, along with a million tons of gas. To get a sense of the scale involved here, the dark strands are some 300,000 miles long, or 30 times as large as the Earth's diameter. The clouds of gas roared away at about half a million miles per hour.

While these kinds of solar events occur fairly frequently, this instrument usually does not take images in this wavelength this frequently -- one image every 12 minutes. Normally this instrument captures one image every 6 hours. SOHO is a mission of international cooperation between the European Space Agency and NASA.

Steele Hill
Goddard Space Flight Center