A little perspective

I found this image to be compelling because it shows our earth in perspective to some of the more mild activity occuring on the surface of the sun.

www.Spaceweather.com writes:

There’s a rainstorm underway on the sun’s eastern limb. You’d better bring your asbestos umbrella, though, because the “droplets” are Texas-sized blobs of hot plasma:


click for a larger animation

“This is prominence finery at its best,” says photographer Pete Lawrence of Selsey, UK. “Small bright points within the prominence that were seen on the capture screen have been recorded as blurs due to the rapid motion of material in just a few seconds!”

Prominences are clouds of hydrogen held above the surface of the sun by magnetic fields. While this particular cloud appears to be raining like a summer shower on Earth, the true situation is more complicated. Look carefully: Some of the plasma raindrops are falling “up.” That’s because the motions are controlled by not only gravity but also magnetism, a force of little importance in terrestrial rainstorms. The solar magnetic field is rooted below the sun’s visible surface; roiling motions in the body of the sun itself cause magnetic fields high overhead to shift, wriggle, and “rain” in all directions. No wonder prominences are so much fun to watch.

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25 thoughts on “A little perspective

  1. awesome.

    like the opening Credits to Star Trek: Voyager with that awesome prominence. Oops, sorry, I just revealed I’m a big nerd. :-)

  2. One of the joys of living in the 21st century is watching a plasma rain storm on the sun.

    How long before earth tourists view solar weather up close in a glass bottomed solar day orbiter?

  3. Can someone add some sense of scale for me?

    a) How long a period is that time lapse over?

    b) How ‘high’ are those plumes above the sun’s surface?

    c) How big are those clouds?

  4. I’ll be happy to verify it! ;)

    Another one here if you’re interested:

    REPLY: Pete, thanks for dropping by, what a great photo animation! The world appreciates your skill. We discuss solar regularly here, so if you have items of interest, don’t be shy. -Anthony

  5. Stef – the original Spaceweather animation was taken over a time period of 7 minutes. The capture was done at 17 frames per second (the prominence was faint and so the capture rate had to be kept this low) and 150 frames were captured every minute. The resulting 8 sets of 150 frames were individually processed so that each set distilled into just a single frame – an astro imaging technique to reduce image noise and improve the overall look of the image. I could see individual points of bright plasma on my laptop’s screen which actually came out blurred over the ~9s capture time necessary to record all 150 frames. The height of the prominences that can be seen here is about 5x the diameter of the Earth or about 60,000km.

    Anthony – I’m never shy ;) A great website, I’ll certainly be back!

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  7. Stef: There is an Earth for scale on there – hence my Wow! Based on the times on the title (about 8 minutes) and an animation repeat time of around a second, I’d guess this is around 500 times real time.

    Considering the sizes involved, that’s stunningly fast – if you estimate the plume at the bottom covers an Earth diameter in 8 minutes, I make it travelling at roughly 60,000 MPH.

    Pete: Lovely work! (have I got these numbers right?)

  8. Pete,

    I enjoyed watching your video clips – or are they a series of photos? Very interesting. Would you mind sharing how they were taken? (And when?)

    Also, as a science neophyte, I’d be interested in knowing something about the physics: What is the photo showing? The plasma in the photo on this page, for example, seems to be flowing along the lines of a single magnetic field. The photo in the link you provided gives a similar impression; taken together, the two suggest that there are multiple magnetic fields along the sun’s surface. Do I get any points for this observation?

    Do these small (spherical) fields have anything to do with sunspots?

    Thanks, Bill P

  9. This is another of the great benefits of living in this time and in this civilization. These fruits of our technology are a direct result of the burning of fossil fuels. The fuels that created the energy that were used to build our civilization.

    Next time you are told of the evils of this great civilization remember this image, the awe it generated, the technologies that gave you the ability received it, and what was necessary to create that technology.

  10. Hi Anthony,

    I have a question for the readers of this blog, and do not know where to post it, so sorry if I am off subject.

    I have been wondering about the tides, lunar, and whether there is any study of how much gravitational energy enters the system ( watts per meter square would be nice), to see whether they are relevant in the construction of the models for the earth climate.

    I know that even the continents move up a few meters with the tide: the LEP accelerator had to take the second order movement into account from what I remember. That seems like a lot of energy to me, that in the end would dissipate into thermal motion and therefore temperature. Also tides affect oceans from top to bottom, and there are high tides and low tides, depending on the position of the moon. Can they set the water swirling like soup in a plate? What about longer term eccentricities of the moon orbit?

    I will be looking on the web, but maybe somebody has a link to a study with numbers already.

  11. An interesting datum from the search:

    http://visibleearth.nasa.gov/view_rec.php?id=17397

    i Not only do tides raise and lower ice shelves, they can eat away the ice shelves from underneath. Such tidal activity may have played a role in ice shelf loss, such as the calving of the Larsen Ice Shelf in 1995. GRACE has also provided information on the location of grounding lines, the place where the underside of the ice shelf parts with the land surface and is underlain only by water. C.K. Shum, one of the researchers on this project, suspects that the previous placements of grounding lines have been off by hundreds of meters.

    fish and ye shall find

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  13. Thanks for the info Pete, I was just trying to get things into proportion, and work out if I could actually see any curvature of the Sun or if it was just my imagination (I think it is my imagination).

    “The height of the prominences that can be seen here is about 5x the diameter of the Earth or about 60,000km.” Ouch, that is big.

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  15. I find the sun most interesting when it is void of spots, and deceptively sound asleep. The sun’s less visible but beautiful aspects can be seen, photographed, measured, etc. Plus with the magnetic field disengaged, the entire universe can be studied. I think past correlations of solar minimums with severe temperature changes attests to the terrible and magnificent quiet sun.

  16. this from GISS: Space. ScienceDaily 31 May 2008. 1 June 2008 .

    any comments on relevance to the cosmic ray/cloud nucleation contributions?

    REPLY: I think you missed the URL. just cust aps paste it, don’t use tags

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