My suspicions the sun is really the giant ball of black fire from the Fifth Element movie has been confirmed. NASA on Monday revealed the enormous mass of hydrogen and helium shot off an estimated 79,000 mile explosion into the vast expanse of space — that’s a big enough eruption to wipe out ten Earths. My iPhone 4S just whimpered a little.
The phenomena, which typically ejects superheated plasma consisting of electrons and protons, is known as a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME), and is the result of the Sun’s magnetic fields literally forcing out hot gas. As the video below shows, it’s like pus ejecting from a ginormous pimple.
NASA’s description of the event reads like the plot of a Michael Bay movie. “A large CME can contain a billion tons of matter that can be accelerated to several million miles per hour in a spectacular explosion,” NASA said. “Solar material streams out through the interplanetary medium, impacting any planet or spacecraft in its path.”
Monday’s CME is different from a what we usually associate to be a solar flare as Discovery points out:
Although flares and CMEs are both caused by magnetic eruptions deep inside the sun’s atmosphere (or corona) and are associated with increased solar activity, they don’t always occur at the same time. Flares can erupt without a resulting CME and vice versa.
Basically, a solar flare blasts extreme-ultraviolet electromagnetic radiation into space, while a CME ejects plasma wrapped in magnetism. Still with me?
The scary part is the 79,000 mile explosion was before the flare detached from the Sun. According to NASA’s Karen Fox, the height of Monday’s CME — once it separated — was “25 earth radii high.” That means super hot plasma hurtled through space up to 198,000 miles. Oh yeah, the event was also categorized as a moderate M1.7-class — that lands the CME in the middle of the scale that scientists use to measure such eruptions.
Not to worry, though; the Sun is about 93 million miles away from Earth, give or take, meaning our peaceful, gadget loving existence will go on for another day.