It’s got a fear-inducing name, but don’t worry: it won’t actually hurt us — or actually come anywhere near our humble orbiting planet. As if we needed another reminder, that gentle warm, bright yellow orb endlessly rising and setting in the sky above is in fact a 4.6-billion-year-old seething ball of hydrogen and helium, and that when stars act up, they do so on an almost unfathomable scale.
Like the tongue of flames you’ll see unfurling in the video above at about the 4-second mark. It happened just last week on New Year’s Eve, and NASA was able to photograph it with its Solar Dynamics Observatory, reports Space.com. The eruption itself looks like something you’d see in a crazy sci-fi disaster movie, say something like Alex Proyas’ The Knowing, right before people go screaming and Armageddon strikes. Even more shocking, NASA has calculated that a plasma eruption equal in length would consume roughly 20 Earths lined up from the solar surface out into space.
How many miles are we talking? The Earth’s diameter is 7,926 miles, so multiply by 20 and you get 158,527 miles — NASA says the solar eruption peaked at about 160,000 miles, in fact. That’s about 1/225 of the distance between the Sun and the planet closest to it, Mercury, which orbits at a distance of about 36 million miles. The Earth, by comparison, is nearly 93 million miles from the Sun, so as noted, not a chance this relatively minor flare-up was going to do anything untoward.
But it’s pretty amazing to watch as all that plasma suddenly jets into space, propelled by untold magnetic forces, coiling and curling before falling back toward the sun’s surface, snared by the star’s immense gravitational pull — roughly 28 times that of Earth’s.
And no, the eruption didn’t occur in just a handful of seconds, as implied by the video: You’re actually watching the time-lapse version of something that occurred over what must have been an awe-inspiring four hours.