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NASA satellite spots 'fiery dragon' escaping from the Sun

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Scott Sutherland
Meteorologist, theweathernetwork.com

Thursday, July 10, 2014, 12:37 PM - NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, which keeps a constant eye on our Sun for space weather, captured a beautiful solar eruption on Tuesday, that looks like a fiery dragon taking flight into space.

The solar flare that generated the eruption was only medium strength, ranked as M6.5-class on the scale of flares, and the x-rays it threw off caused the view at certain wavelengths to strobe (see at about 10 seconds into the video), but it was the eruption itself that was really impressive. As the magnetic field loops that joined the different parts of the sunspot reacted to the flare, they 'snapped', releasing the solar material that was locked up inside the loops. This 'coronal mass ejection', composed of millions of tons of matter, launched out into space at an incredible speed, headed in the direction of the planet Mars. As it curled and swirled around, the matter formed into tendrils and loops, and at one point, it actually looks very much like a dragon that is about to spread its wings and fly:


Credit: NASA SDO

These views of the Sun are captured by SDO using filters to capture different wavelengths of light, with each wavelength, or combination of wavelengths, giving scientists here on Earth a different set of information to work with.

The wavelengths used in the video, all measured in Angstroms (one Angstrom = one ten-billionth of a metre), show off this event the best. 304 Angstroms, which is the red-toned view first shown in the video, is the wavelength used to see the plumes of plasma that arc from the Sun's surface and are blasted out into space during a coronal mass ejection. 171 Angstroms, in gold, brings the 'coronal loops' into sharp focus, where matter is strung out from the Sun's surface along the magnetic field lines. 131 Angstroms, in teal, is a channel specific to solar flares, capturing them in incredible detail, and seeing not only the hottest temperatures (up to 10 million Kelvin) but also the coolest plasmas (~400,000 Kelvin).

SDO has been in orbit for over four years now, and has captured some incredible views of our Sun. If you'd like to see more, it is all available on NASA's website: sdo.gsfc.nasa.gov

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