We’ve been told not to look directly at the sun since we were old enough to want to. That said, NASA likes to look at things regardless of the danger and they’ve had a workaround to that rule in place since 2010.
On July 9 and 10, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory or SDO caught a full twenty-plus seconds of video showing licks of energy shooting off the surface of the solar surface. The sun is essentially a huge nuclear reactor and a great big ball of plasma — a gas that has equal numbers of positive ions and negative electrons. Plasma is not a liquid, it’s not a solid, and it’s not a gas, it is the fourth state of matter, it’s super hot, and the sun has it in spades.
Yellow dwarf stars like ours give off massive amounts of this stuff, and occasionally some of this plasma leaps off the coronal surface of our star and out to space. But plasma is electrically charged, and therefore subject to magnetic and electrical forces, so even though it escapes for a moment, most if it gets pulled back in.
NASA is not totally immune to the “no staring at the sun rule.” The comments section of the video released earlier today explain that this footage was shot in wavelengths of extreme ultraviolet light, a spectrum invisible to humans. The boys and girls over at our favorite space agency colorized it and our eyes and imaginations owe them a thank you.