This beautiful portrait of our nearest star was captured by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), picking out the powerful and elegant loops of magnetized plasma reaching high into the sun's corona.
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Captured on Monday, this SDO observation has picked out many magnetic features, particularly above several active regions that are shining brightly. Imaged through the SDO's 171A filter, we are seeing the multimillion degree plasma stretching into the corona shining in extreme-ultraviolet wavelengths. The bright loops are magnetic field lines channeling hot plasma from the sun's interior into space - these features are known as coronal loops.
The SDO is outfitted with a suite of instrumentation capable of viewing all layers of the solar atmosphere, from the photosphere to the high corona, filled with solar plasma of varying temperatures.
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The hottest plasma can be found in the corona, thought to be heated via two key mechanisms - magnetic waves propagating through the superheated plasma and nanoflares that appear to be constantly cooking the corona.
Observations such as this help solar physicists better understand how the sun generates solar flares and coronal mass ejections. Flares and CMEs can have dramatic effects on the space weather surrounding the Earth, which can, in turn, impact power grids, satellites and even affect astronauts' health.
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"We know it is the interplay between the magnetic fields that trigger the flare, but we are still looking for a way to integrate our theory and observations to be able to predict exactly when an eruption will happen and how strong it will be," said Michael Kirk, solar scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD, in a NASA image release.
NASA's SDO has been exploring the sun since it was launched in 2010 and has provided an unprecedented view of the solar atmosphere, capturing it in high-definition, continually monitoring solar activity for rapid, transient events that, before SDO's launch, were poorly understood.