There is something immensely disquieting about the size and energy of the Sun relative to the Earth and its place in the Solar System. It becomes an even more daunting entity when forces within the Sun orchestrate a eruptive prominence and shoots plasma out into space. NASA caught the latest solar eruption on camera and released a video of the massive energy eruption. The immense flare-up only serves to make the Earth appear small and vulnerable in comparison.
NASA scientists put the plasma eruption into perspective as being forced into an arch that would swallow 20 Earths, Space.com noted when the amazing NASA video of the event (made up of images taken from the Solar Dynamics Observatory) was released on Jan. 4. It extended over 160,000 miles out from the sun's volatile surface. The flaring plasma was the result of electromagnetic forces at work within the massive star that suddenly became unstable.
And yet the overwhelming size and power of the Sun still held sway, the solar eruption not having "sufficient force to overcome the sun's gravity" so that "much of the plasma fell back into the sun," NASA scientists explained in a description. The video is a condensed version of the eruption, which took four hours to unfold.
Solar eruptions, or eruptive prominences, are distinguished from coronal mass ejections (CMEs) in that most of the plasma is retained by the Sun. A CME actually ejects enormous amounts of highly charged magnetic particles away from the Sun and into the Solar System.
The actual blast occurred on Dec. 31, a New Year's Eve salute if you will. It is part of the active phase the Sun is going through at present as part of an 11-year solar activity cycle (Cycle 24). The peak of the active phase is expected later in 2013 (and has prompted scenarios of doomsday-causing electro-magnetic pulses from solar flares shutting down electric power grids around the world, plunging humanity into chaos and social breakdown).
As gigantic as the solar prominence was, it wasn't as violent an episode as several recorded in 2012. In fact, several solar flares erupted from the Sun's surface in the last year, the largest being in March and registering an X5.4 on the GOES (Geostationary Orbital Environmental Satellite) x-ray classification scale (highest: X20). But there were larger solar episodes over the past solar cycle. The largest solar flare ever recorded occurred in April 2001 and was so powerful as to make the scale meaningless. Extrapolated, the flare was estimated to be an X45.