NASA spots million-mile-long filament across the sun

A cloud of solar material stretching across the sun has caught NASA's attention, and it's a wonder to behold.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser

NASA solar filament
The filament is visible as a dark wiggly line across the sun. NASA/SDO

Our sun is a wild and fascinating place. While a big, fluffy, horizon-long set of clouds is an impressive sight here on Earth, the sun can handily top that with a single filament of solar material. Filaments appear on the sun from time to time. These unstable gaseous clouds of solar plasma sometimes hang around for weeks, giving scientists down here plenty to look at.

Recently, a filament appeared on the sun that stretches about a million miles in length. This massive formation is held up by magnetic forces and rotates along with the sun. Straighten it out and it would very nearly reach around the sun. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory keeps a constant watch on the sun and has been tracking the huge filament for days.

The filament appears in images taken in different wavelengths as a long, tendril-like line etched across the sun. It looks like something out of a CGI-fueled sci-fi movie. Scientists are studying filaments in an effort to learn more about how they are created and what causes them to occasionally turn into powerful eruptions shooting plasma out into space.

Back in 2013, a magnetic filament of only 200,000 miles in length erupted, creating what NASA described as a "canyon of fire." Another filament in 2012 erupted in a way that caused an aurora to appear on Earth. The current filament could conceivably face the same fate, which would undoubtedly be spectacular. Otherwise, it might just fade away. Either way, it's a sight to behold.