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Giant solar flare captivates in HD

NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captures high-definition images and video of a dramatic solar flare not aimed at Earth.

Martin LaMonica Former Staff writer, CNET News
Martin LaMonica is a senior writer covering green tech and cutting-edge technologies. He joined CNET in 2002 to cover enterprise IT and Web development and was previously executive editor of IT publication InfoWorld.
Martin LaMonica

NASA released images and a video of a solar prominence, a giant arch of super-hot gases bursting off the sun's surface.

The prominence, shot yesterday from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory telescope, is associated with a solar flare, a brightening on the sun's surface that often occurs when a piece of the sun's atmosphere breaks off from the sun.

In this case, the medium-size solar flare was off the east side of the sun. It is not directed toward Earth. As such, it doesn't threaten to disrupt satellites or air travel, as other solar flares have.

The sun is entering a period of high activity, which means that the chances of a coronal mass ejection are higher. These bursts of high-energy matter and magnetic waves break off from the sun and, when directed toward Earth, can interact with the Earth's magnetic field.

That causes the auroras borealis at the poles and, if the conditions are right, could impact satellite communications, air travel, and the power grid.

The event shot by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory is still in progress.