Sun watching satellite catches flashy solar show
A figure "8" solar prominence
January 26, 2000
Web posted at: 2:18 PM EST (1918 GMT)
(CNN) -- With seasonal solar activity on the rise, the sun is beginning to put on quite a show for scientists. The Solar & Heliospheric Observatory sun captured images of a "huge eruptive prominence" shooting out of the fireball this month. The prominence at one point was about 100 times wider than Earth.
Prominences are loops of magnetic fields with hot gas trapped inside. If the magnetic fields become unstable, they sometimes erupt and rise off the sun in just a few minutes or hours, according to the SOHO Web site. Often like this one they resemble a figure "8."
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SOHO records powerful solar flares and coronal mass ejections from a permanent vantage point 1.5 million km ahead of the Earth in a halo orbit. Terrestrial observers can't see the solar fireworks with the naked eye, but the European Space Agency and NASA can thanks to the sun observatory, which was launched in 1995.
Prominences become more common as the solar maximum -- the time when sunspot activity peaks -- approaches. David Hathaway, a solar physicist at the Marshall Space Flight Center, predicts the solar activity will peak around the middle of the year 2000.
Want to see a hot animation of this recent eruption? Check out NASA's solar gallery.
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SOHO: The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory
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NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center
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