Watch a 200,000-Mile Canyon of Fire Rip Open on the Sun

Trying to watch the sun's explosions with your naked eyes is a recipe for blindness, but luckily NASA has a couple of telescopes that can show you all that fusion glory with none of the permanent ocular damage. Take, for instance, this 200,000-mile long canyon of fire.


Of course, the whole "canyon of fire" thing is a bit of an oversimplification; the sun is actually composed of superheated plasma, not fire. Likewise, this isn't actually footage of the explosion, but a painstaking visualization built off of real-life telescope data captured the Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, between September 29th and 30th, and then condensed down and spun into this fiery visualization.

NASA explains the process:

Different wavelengths help capture different aspect of events in the corona. The red images shown in the movie help highlight plasma at temperatures of 90,000° F and are good for observing filaments as they form and erupt. The yellow images, showing temperatures at 1,000,000° F, are useful for observing material coursing along the sun's magnetic field lines, seen in the movie as an arcade of loops across the area of the eruption. The browner images at the beginning of the movie show material at temperatures of 1,800,000° F, and it is here where the canyon of fire imagery is most obvious.

By comparing this with the other colors, one sees that the two swirling ribbons moving farther away from each other are, in fact, the footprints of the giant magnetic field loops, which are growing and expanding as the filament pulls them upward.

So the next time sunlight clocks you in the face, just remember there's some mind-blowing stuff going on up there. You just can't see it with your puny, squinty human eyes. [NASA]


At the end of the video there seems to be a human face in the upper center of the frame looking down at the magnetic activity in the center of the frame. How far across is that face?