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The Sun lets loose a HUGE explosion
June 7, 2011 10:08 PM   Subscribe


 
No sound.
posted by Anything at 10:10 PM on June 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


Silent but deadly.
posted by darkstar at 10:10 PM on June 7, 2011 [12 favorites]


The sun tried to blame it on Sirius.
posted by unsupervised at 10:16 PM on June 7, 2011 [46 favorites]


Gesundheit!
posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:16 PM on June 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


So is the official start of Big Scary Carrington Event Season? Or is ABC going to do a "Dynasty" revival?
posted by oneswellfoop at 10:18 PM on June 7, 2011


LOL! Sirius, the dog star! :D
posted by darkstar at 10:18 PM on June 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


Boom goes the dynamite?
posted by KokuRyu at 10:26 PM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


"A good flare can release up to 10% of the Sun’s total energy"

Surely they mean 10% more than the average energy released in a given period of time? Or can the Sun only handle ten 'good flares' before it's total energy is zero? Can someone explain what they mean by this?
posted by MrFTBN at 10:26 PM on June 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Surely you can't be Sirius.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:33 PM on June 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Surely they mean 10% more than the average energy released in a given period of time? Or can the Sun only handle ten 'good flares' before it's total energy is zero? Can someone explain what they mean by this?

Right. It means if the Sun was giving out 100 superpoints of energy every second that for the time the flare is happening it's giving off 110 superpoints of energy. (Or more scientifically, the flare equals up to an extra 10^32 ergs of energy)
posted by zephyr_words at 10:37 PM on June 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Am I the only one who came in here expecting something about the British newspaper? I was kind of hoping there'd been a critical mass of bad journalism and the whole mess had exploded somehow.
posted by solarion at 10:40 PM on June 7, 2011 [15 favorites]


If only there were some way to harness all of this incredible solar energy, and use it for generating the electricity needed to power the things in our life that we have and use! Instead - DINOSAURS!
posted by tumid dahlia at 10:42 PM on June 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Will it affect the tanning index?
posted by longsleeves at 10:42 PM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I thought there was some Page 3 girl joke in there somewhere.
posted by zardoz at 10:43 PM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


HOT ORBS
posted by tumid dahlia at 10:44 PM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Light a match, Sol!
posted by Ardiril at 11:01 PM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've watched several of the visualizations put together a hundred times each by now, and I'm pretty sure you can see an oblong blur zoom into the heart of the sun at about :23s.

Our solar system may be under attack!
posted by carsonb at 11:02 PM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hotblack Desiato is so froody.
posted by not_on_display at 11:14 PM on June 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


I heard Beano works.
posted by hal_c_on at 11:23 PM on June 7, 2011


I've watched several of the visualizations put together a hundred times each by now, and I'm pretty sure you can see an oblong blur zoom into the heart of the sun at about :23s.

Our solar system may be under attack!


Oh, that's just the Enterprise going back to the future. Or the past, who even knows anymore? They probably took all our whales.
posted by dirigibleman at 11:25 PM on June 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think they mean the sun can only let off ten flares like that until it spends the night at an Inn, but then it gets recharged and has a full battery again. If you can't stay at an Inn you have to use Ethers.
posted by neuromodulator at 11:28 PM on June 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


How the article describes the color of the emitted light is a bit misleading. 304 angstroms = 30.4nm which is far beyond visible light into the UV, almost into the xray part of the spectrum. It's true that light shifted to the blue simply means that it is relatively higher energy, but it is confusing in that the light emitted is not close to the small portion of the electromagnetic spectrum that our eye can detect.

Note: ~400nm(4000Angstroms) is violet, 650nm is red.

Electromagnetic Spectrum
posted by Quack at 11:32 PM on June 7, 2011


It's interesting how different a star is from something humans can create. If we had a working fusion reactor and it did that there'd be a bunch of alarms going off, systems malfunctioning, the whole deal. But the sun can just give out a huge burp and keep on shining.
posted by Kevin Street at 11:47 PM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


URL was cutoff in the tab and read "Sun lets loose a HUG"
posted by hellojed at 12:21 AM on June 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Dogstar? So it's really Keanu's fault?
posted by bwg at 12:32 AM on June 8, 2011


AIEOOOUU! No more curried eggs for me! /Bloodnok
posted by Decani at 12:42 AM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


(I am a solar physicist.)

I think it's worth adding a bit of context to this story. This prominence eruption is certainly dramatic, but in terms of actual energy released, the event is somewhere between 100 and 1000 times smaller than the biggest that have ever been observed.

But the comparative weakness of the event is exactly what makes it appear so dramatic. In many solar eruptions, all the material is quickly blasted into interplanetary space so you don't see it for very long, but here, much of the (relatively) cool, dense material doesn't get accelerated enough to escape, and you're left with this impressive 'cloud' of stuff that rains back down onto the sun.

What struck me as cool -- and what many of us in the solar physics community haven't seen before so dramatically -- is the way that the dark, cool blobs become heated and bright as they fall back towards the sun, looking a little bit of like meteors burning up in the atmosphere. (If you're not sure what I mean, here's a movie I made that points them out.)

PROBA2, the European spacecraft I work on, also saw the event and it has a wider field of view that allows you to see what happens to all this material higher up in the sun's atmosphere, which we call the corona. Here's a movie.

So is the official start of Big Scary Carrington Event Season?

The answer is yes and no. Certainly solar activity is increasing again after a long and deep minimum, and we're seeing more -- and more dramatic -- eruptions. On the other hand, there seems to be growing evidence that the recent deep activity minimum is related to an overall weakening in the sun's magnetic field at the moment. Since the magnetic field of the sun is what provides the energy to drive this kind of event, it is possible -- though by no means guaranteed -- that we will see fewer, and weaker, eruptions than usual during the coming peak in activity.
posted by dseaton at 12:50 AM on June 8, 2011 [159 favorites]


PROBA2, the European spacecraft I work on

My penis just detached itself and went looking for a host body with a cooler job.

THANKS A LOT, Dr. Awesome.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 1:44 AM on June 8, 2011 [50 favorites]


what's the time frame on an event like this? in the video it's just a few seconds between the eruption and all the debris falling back to the surface, and that seems very fast - how long did it actually take?
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 3:09 AM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Excellent video clip, dseaton!
posted by rmmcclay at 3:21 AM on June 8, 2011


what's the time frame on an event like this?

These events can last anywhere from minutes to hours. (If you blow the zoomed-in video up to full size, you can see there's a tiny timecode down in the lower left.) This particular eruption unfolded over the course of a couple hours.

To give you a sense of scale, the velocities involved in eruptions are generally hundreds of kilometers per second -- occasionally thousands -- so these are large, fast moving structures on earth scales, but very small and slow compares to the size of the sun.
posted by dseaton at 4:02 AM on June 8, 2011 [7 favorites]


Pass the SPF 1 billion please.
posted by dabug at 4:05 AM on June 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


It's just gas.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:05 AM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Again, the good news is that we’re not in any danger from this

Oh good.

it wasn’t aimed our way

Wait what???

What would have happened had it or one of the more intense flares been aimed at us, or, more frighteningly, 'merica?
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:06 AM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


What would have happened had it or one of the more intense flares been aimed at us, or, more frighteningly, 'merica?

Large space weather storms are a big deal, but, partly because we can predict them, they aren't really catastrophic.
posted by dseaton at 5:22 AM on June 8, 2011


What would have happened had it or one of the more intense flares been aimed at us

Let's just say I hope you like fusion cuisine.
posted by ShutterBun at 5:25 AM on June 8, 2011 [10 favorites]


If we had a working fusion reactor and it did that there'd be a bunch of alarms going off, systems malfunctioning, the whole deal a lifeless cinder where the Earth used to be.
posted by ixohoxi at 5:33 AM on June 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


So, basically, the sun can belch out a billion tons of matter at temperatures that would instantly vaporize anything in it's path. The moral of this is: do not, under any circumstances, piss off the sun.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:48 AM on June 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Astronomy threads are the home of shit jokes.
posted by the cuban at 5:49 AM on June 8, 2011


Surely you can't be Sirius.

Siriously, stop calling me Surely.
posted by Dr. Zira at 6:07 AM on June 8, 2011




dseaton, in the PROBA2 video are the three bursts of 'static' from protons hitting the imager, one before the flare and two after?
posted by bitmage at 6:28 AM on June 8, 2011


dseaton, thank you for making this thread informative and interesting.
posted by gilrain at 6:36 AM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, that's just the Enterprise going back to the future. Or the past, who even knows anymore? They probably took all our whales.

Our what, now?
posted by The Bellman at 6:39 AM on June 8, 2011


I'm hoping this will generate some fantastic displays of Aurora Borealis, even though it wasn't point our way during the occurrence.
posted by theora55 at 7:18 AM on June 8, 2011


in the PROBA2 video are the three bursts of 'static' from protons hitting the imager, one before the flare and two after?

Yes. My guess, just based on the bursts' relative separation in time (but without checking actual spacecraft position), is that they're all the result of the spacecraft passing through the South Atlantic Anomaly.
posted by dseaton at 7:21 AM on June 8, 2011


Previously, with Dan penisokleptic there too
posted by Blasdelb at 7:25 AM on June 8, 2011


pointed. sheesh

And, as long as I'm in here, pretty Northern Lights.
posted by theora55 at 7:32 AM on June 8, 2011


People are referring to the "material" that is ejected that then falls back to the sun, but what exactly is this material? Metals? It's not just gas, is it?

/ignoramus
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:34 AM on June 8, 2011


Thanks, Dan. And now I'm really curious as to why bursts from the SAA would have a pattern, if you have time to write about it. In any case, thanks again for the excellent comments - stuff like this is the best of MeFi.
posted by bitmage at 7:36 AM on June 8, 2011


Me, reading this thread:

"Look, that's a cool video. Scary, but cool. Can Bruce Willis ride a rocket in there and save us? Probably not. Oh, okay, with the fart jokes. Fart. Fart. Airplane! Fart. Fart. Whales... nerds.... Wait, was that 1/10th of the end of the universe? No? Whew. Farts... farts. OMG there's such a thing as solar physics? Never thought about that. And there is a real live solar physicist, who is also a MeFite, now in the thread enlightening us? And he works on a European spacecraft? Large space weather storms?? South Atlantic Anomaly—that's a real thing? Not a Crosby, Stills & Nash song? OMG SOLAR PHYSICS"

so, thanks for that, dseaton.
posted by pineapple at 7:51 AM on June 8, 2011 [6 favorites]


URL was cutoff in the tab and read "Sun lets loose a HUG"

You don't want that.
posted by FatherDagon at 7:56 AM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


what exactly is this material?

This material is plasma -- the sun and its environment are so hot that everything is plasma. There are no solids, liquids, or (normal) gasses.

In the movies the ejected material appears to be dark because it is cooler and denser than the surrounding material and doesn't give off much light of its own (at this wavelength) compared to the surrounding environment. So the ejected material ends up being effectively opaque compared to most of the solar atmosphere, which is often bright in the extreme-ultraviolet light you're looking at in the movies, and relatively transparent. Most of what you see is made up of the same constituents, mostly ionized hydrogen with traces of other elements like oxygen, silicon, iron, etc. For the most part, it's these trace elements that are responsible for giving off the light we see in the movies.

As the temperature of this material changes, the light it gives off changes wavelength, and it becomes invisible or visible in different wavelengths. This is why the movies in different wavelengths look different: you're seeing the effect of the particular instrument's response to material of different temperatures.

Those falling blobs that suddenly brighten near the solar surface become bright because they are heated and start giving off the particular flavor of extreme-ultraviolet light that the telescope is sensitive to.

now I'm really curious as to why bursts from the SAA would have a pattern

One orbit by PROBA2 takes 100 minutes. If the orbit is in an orientation that takes it through the SAA, it will pass through the SAA every hour and 40 minutes. PROBA2's orbit changes over the course of a day (it basically follows the terminator, the dividing line between night and day), so the SAA comes and goes depending where the spacecraft is going at any particular time.
posted by dseaton at 7:58 AM on June 8, 2011 [7 favorites]


Surely they mean 10% more than the average energy released in a given period of time? Or can the Sun only handle ten 'good flares' before it's total energy is zero? Can someone explain what they mean by this?

PERCENTAGES DO NOT WORK THAT WAY!

/Morbo voice
posted by Dark Messiah at 8:18 AM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thanks dseaton! MetaFilter keeps making me more smarter.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:23 AM on June 8, 2011


dseaton: "What struck me as cool -- and what many of us in the solar physics community haven't seen before so dramatically -- is the way that the dark, cool blobs become heated and bright as they fall back towards the sun, looking a little bit of like meteors burning up in the atmosphere."

Yes! That's what really struck me. You can watch material "splashing down" on the Sun's surface, which has cemented the Sun in my mind as an actual physical place more than anything I've ever seen. It's like the first time I looked at the Moon through a decent telescope and really saw it as a nearby object (one I had to keep moving the telescope to keep in frame) instead of a static, flat circle in the night sky. I've of course known these things abstractly, but it's hard to wrap your mind around this stuff without really seeing it, which makes the intuitive leaps of early scientific observers all the more impressive.

Also, I'm experiencing an impossible mixture of pleasant surprise and utter lack of surprise that an actual solar physicist has shown up in this thread. God damn I love this place.
posted by brundlefly at 8:25 AM on June 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Sadly, some people remain unclear on the concept of what goes on inside a star.
posted by scalefree at 8:36 AM on June 8, 2011


Fucking hell. This is why I love Metafilter. Now I can go home to the wife at lunch and say "So yeah, I was reading a solar physicist's explanation on Metafilter of that solar eruption and it was SUPER interesting" and watch her eyes instantly glaze over. Dammit I THINK IT'S INTERESTING.

Also, I wish I worked in a super interesting field so that I could chime in like dseaton on an FPP sometimes. If the subject of pet supply online stores ever comes up, I'm your man, people!
posted by antifuse at 8:57 AM on June 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


the quidnunc kid: My penis just detached itself and went looking for a host body with a cooler job.

So that's how George Washington got "like 30 goddamned dicks"

posted by filthy light thief at 9:19 AM on June 8, 2011


The sun tried to blame it on Sirius.

I'm pretty sure it's the sun that messes up my satellite radio, not the other way around.
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:38 AM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Sun lets loose a HUG"

You don't want that.


Right. Elton John even wrote a song about it.
posted by Herodios at 10:46 AM on June 8, 2011


So the sun really IS a mass of incandescent gas -- a giant nuclear furnace!
posted by mudpuppie at 11:51 AM on June 8, 2011


A colleague at the observatory where I work made this movie by warping the image some. It's essentially the view you'd have if you were hovering just a little above the sun. If you liked the other movies, it's a cool view and worth a look as well.
posted by dseaton at 12:13 PM on June 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


which has cemented the Sun in my mind

owch
posted by herbplarfegan at 12:30 PM on June 8, 2011




So the sun really IS a mass of incandescent gas -- a giant nuclear furnace!

I think they might say it is a "miasma of incandescent plasma."
posted by CancerMan at 1:41 PM on June 8, 2011


So those blobs are like huge? What's the scale here? THATS NO MOON kind of big? It all looks like some kind of crazy fun thing with a dog's saliva-drenched tennis ball getting hit by a spitball but it's big. Like really big. SPLORT and BLOOP but the size of a planet and all?
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:26 PM on June 8, 2011


> So those blobs are like huge?

dseaton would be the one to know, but based on my vague memories of the scale of the Earth vis-a-vis the sun, "Bigger than the Earth" wouldn't surprise me. Likewise, that plume being "further across than the distance between the Earth and the moon".

Whatever the truth, that sucker was bigger-than-the-human-mind-can-grasp *huge*.
posted by Decimask at 4:44 PM on June 8, 2011


So those blobs are like huge?

here's a scale representation of the Sun and Earth. so yeah, those tiny blobs falling back to the Sun's surface are approximately enough Earth-sized.
posted by russm at 7:58 PM on June 8, 2011


errrr...

the sun IS a huge explosion
posted by tehloki at 8:10 PM on June 8, 2011


PROBA2 Skylark, the European spacecraft I work on
FTFY, dseaton.
posted by hattifattener at 10:22 PM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


So those blobs are like huge?

I did a quick estimate of the size of a few of the blobs and found a few of them were about 35,000 km across. The earth's diameter is a little less than 13,000 km, so we're taking about three times the size of the earth. Huge in our terms, but the sun's diameter is about 110 times bigger than the earth's diameter, so this is all pretty small compared to the sun.
posted by dseaton at 12:49 AM on June 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


In related astronomy news: Scientists predict rare 'hibernation' of sunspots.
posted by ericb at 1:43 PM on June 15, 2011


"My penis just detached itself and went looking for a host body with a cooler job"

lool wtf??
posted by randomstorenet at 1:10 PM on June 20, 2011


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