A NASA satellite has caught a stunning, yet eerie, video of a huge plasma twister rising up from the surface of the sun.
The video, taken by the Solar Dynamics Observatory, shows a plasma eruption that swirls up like a tornado to a dizzying height of up to 93,206 miles (150,000 kilometers) above the solar surface.
"Its height is roughly between 10 to 12 Earths," solar astrophysicist C. Alex Young of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., told SPACE.com. [See the stunning sun twister video]
The solar twister occurred on July 12 when an eruption of magnetic plasma, called a prominence, spiraled up from the sun in a graceful whirlwind, then split into four separate strands that twisted into a knot before fading away. The entire event lasted just a few hours.
Young said the ethereal twister look of the prominence was largely a matter of perspective. The Solar Dynamic Observatory was seeing the eruption from an angle that caught the prominence's rise up from the solar surface.
From another vantage point, the observatory may have seen the entire prominence arc up from the sun's surface, curve over and then close again in a vast loop. [Infographic: Anatomy of a Sun Storm]
"It would probably look much more normal, like a loop … kind of fill up like a loop and then fall back down," Young said. "It's not uncommon that we see this kind of helical-twisting structure."
Prominences occur when material erupts along magnetic field lines that briefly extend out beyond the solar surface as the sun rotates on its axis.
"It's kind of like having rubber bands and you're twisting them, and they sort of bunch up and get knotted," Young said. "The same thing is happening in the sun's magnetic field."
Get the Space.com Newsletter
Breaking space news, the latest updates on rocket launches, skywatching events and more!
Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of Space.com and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became Space.com's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining Space.com, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at Space.com and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.