Here’s What a Stopped Eruption on the Sun Looks Like

The world will get one hell of a visual treat on August 21 when a total solar eclipse blacks out the daylight, but the sun provides mesmerizing visuals all the time. We can’t see many of them with our naked eye, but NASA’s solar observation instruments are able to capture the high-energy violence happening right off the surface of the sun.

Back in 2014, NASA and its partners’ observatories saw something unusual happening: the formation of a solar storm stopped in its tracks before it could manifest into a full-blown storm. Those observations, published in a paper last month in The Astrophysical Journal, illustrate a terminated solar eruption, and the event looks as wild as an eruption allowed to run its course.

The findings were made using data collected by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory and Interface Region Imaging Spetrograph, the JAXA/NASA Hinode, and multiple ground-based telescopes. “Each component of our observations was very important,” said Georgios Chintzoglou, lead author of the paper and a solar physicist at Lockheed Martin Solar and Astrophysics Laboratory in Palo Alto, California, [in a news release]( “Remove one instrument, and you’re basically blind. In solar physics, you need to have good coverage observing multiple temperatures — if you have them all, you can tell a nice story.”

So what exactly happened that forced an aborted solar eruption? Basically, the solar filament that projects the storm pushed up into a complex magnetic structure — called a hyperbolic flux tube — which broke the filament’s magnetic field lines and reconnected them to the sun, which erased the filament’s own magnetic energy and resulted in a failed eruption.

The results are pretty interesting on their own, but the data can be more practically used to help scientists better understand how solar storms behave, which would help us to better predict when these events might occur. A solar storm could eradicate much of the planet’s electrical infrastructure and leave huge regions of the world without power if the sun ejected a real nasty flare.

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