It was captured by Japan’s Hinode spacecraft in January:
“I managed to stay in my seat,” says solar physicist John Davis of the Marshall Space Flight Center, “but just barely.”
Davis is NASA’s project scientist for Hinode, Japanese for Sunrise. The spacecraft was launched in Sept. 2006 from the Uchinoura Space Center in Japan on a mission to study sunspots and solar flares. Hinode’s Solar Optical Telescope, which some astronomers liken to “a Hubble for the Sun,” produces crystal-clear images with 0.2 arc-second resolution. (Comparison: 0.2 arc-second is a tiny angle approximately equal to the width of a human hair held about 100 meters away.) “We’re getting movies like these all the time now,” he says.
This particular movie is visually stunning, but the most amazing thing about it, notes Davis, is where the scene unfolded–in the sun’s chromosphere. “We used to think the chromosphere was a fairly uneventful place, but Hinode is shattering those misconceptions.”
Oh, and just to get a sense of scale:
Visually, the chromosphere resembles a shag carpet with threads of magnetism jutting up from the floor below. Hinode’s movies show the threads swaying back and forth as if blown by a gentle breeze. There is nothing gentle, however, about “spicules” shooting into the chromosphere from the underlying photosphere. “These are jets of gas as big as Texas,” says Davis. “They rise and fall on time scales of 10 minutes.”