Gigantic loop of solar plasma is half a million miles longS

This image was taken only a few hours ago, and it shows an absolutely massive solar prominence rippling outward from the Sun. This colossal plasma loop might be 500,000 miles long - that's 60 times the diameter of Earth.

These features are known as prominences, and they form in the sun's photosphere. Cooler plasma pushes out into the hotter, ionized gases of the Sun's corona, creating massive loops that take about a day to form but can sometimes persist for months. This particular prominence, one of the biggest we've ever seen, isn't expected to last much longer than a few hours, after which it should harmlessly break up.

But right about now, there's a loop of plasma running around the Sun that could encircle the Earth twenty times over. That's absolutely amazing, and here's the particularly crazy bit. That picture above was taken in ultraviolet light. Here's what you'd actually see if you were in space around the Sun right now:

Gigantic loop of solar plasma is half a million miles longS

The prominence is incredibly long, but it's also very thin, making it completely invisible next to the light coming off of the surface of the Sun. That fact makes us even more privileged to be able to see something like this - humans have been staring up at the Sun for eons, but we're one of the first generations that is actually able to see a sight like this.

[via Bad Astronomy]