Sun observers have released clips of a vast solar tornado, as wide across as five Earths, that broke the surface of the star back in September 2011. Caught on camera by NASA's Solar Dynamic Observatory and spotted in the footage by the Institute of Mathematics and Physics at the University of Aberystwyth in Wales, the "coronal mass ejections" spurt from solar prominences and the coronal cavities above them.
The Solar Dynamic Observatory (SDO) is NASA's first Living with a Star (LWS) satellite, intended to accompany the sun for five years (though predicted to last much longer than that) and observe its constantly evolving output. A full CD's worth of data is gathered every 36 seconds, squirted back to a dedicated ground station on Earth via a geosynchronous connection.
"By better understanding the Sun and how it works, we will be able to better predict and better forecast the "weather out in space"" NASA says, "providing earlier warnings to protect our astronauts and satellites floating around out there."
However, eruptions of solar radiation can also have a huge impact on electronics back on Earth. Earlier this year, a massive incident caused widespread aurora, while NASA also warned that electrical devices and wireless technologies could be impacted.
Dr. Xing Li, Dr. Huw Morgan and Mr. Drew Leonard will present their findings of the event at the National Astronomy Meeting 2012. You can find animations of the huge solar tornado here.
[via Ed Yong]