Huge Magnetic Plasma 'Snake' Spotted On the Sun

This image is a close-up on the snake-like solar filament arcing up from the sun as seen by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory on Nov. 17, 2010.
This image is a close-up on the snake-like solar filament arcing up from the sun as seen by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory on Nov. 17, 2010. (Image credit: NASA/SDO)

A huge snakeliketendril of magnetic plasma has appeared on the sun, extending hundredsofthousands of miles across the surface of our nearest star.

The solarfilament was spotted Tuesday (Nov. 16) by cameras on NASA's SolarDynamicsObservatory, which stares at the sun continuously in differentwavelengths. Itis a mind-boggling 600,000 kilometers (just over 372,800 miles) long,accordingto the website [Photoof the snakelike sunfilament]

Solarfilaments are long threads of plasma that rise up into the sun'sultra-hotouter atmosphere, called the corona. These filaments are much coolerthan thecorona and appear to be dark with the sun's disk in the background.They canform dazzling prominences when viewed along the sun's curving horizon,calledthe limb.

The sun'snew filament is winding around the sun's southwestern limb and couldultimatelyeruptinto a solar storm or slip back into the sun's surface,according, which monitors space weather andskywatching events.

"Thefilament has several options: relaxing gently back into the sun,snappingexplosively, or crashing down upon the stellar surface,"'sTony Phillips wrote in a Nov. 17 update. "Although an eruption from thearea would likely notbe Earth-directed, it could be very photogenic as tendrils of hotplasma flyinto the black space above the edge of the sun."

In recentmonths, the sun has entered an active period of its 11-year solarweather cycle after an extendedlull in activity.

Severalpowerful flares have erupted from the sun's surface in recent weeks.The SolarDynamics Observatory and several other spacecraft keep constant watchon thesun to track solar weather activity.

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