Week in Geek: Freaky nature edition


This week in hypnotizing science brings us footage from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) of an eruption on the surface of the Sun from July 19, 2012. Eruptions come in all shapes and sizes but this particular one put on quite a show. It starts with a moderate solar flare, continues with a coronal mass ejection (also a great playground insult), and ends with a phenomenon known as coronal rain (also a great band name). Coronal rain is what occurs when hot plasma cools and condenses along the strong magnetic field lines generated by the flare and falls back onto the Sun. It may look like a lovely, gentle shower here, but I assure you it’s more like a searing, blistering fire storm. That said, coronal rain is a staggeringly beautiful thing to watch from a distance.

There are several amazing things about this video:

(1) It shows just how much is happening on the surface of the Sun. It’s easy to think of stars as big balls of light, but they are really “gigantic nuclear furnaces” (h/t They Might Be Giants). In fact, what we colloquially call the surface of the Sun, is not the surface at all but rather the photosphere, a plasma-like layer hundreds of kilometers thick.

(2) Active regions in the Sun’s photosphere are much larger than our entire planet. As you can see in the video, this particular coronal mass ejection is several times the size of Earth!

(3) Each second of the video corresponds to six minutes of real time. So in the roughly three and a half minutes it takes to watch the video, you’re actually seeing 21 hours worth of solar activity.

For a more detailed explanation, check out Phil Plait’s post.

And if that wasn’t enough, here some more geek about how freaky nature can be:

Until we geek again…@Summer_Ash


Rachel Maddow Show Geek

Week in Geek: Freaky nature edition