SCIENCE
10/07/2014 08:13 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Vast Solar Filament Seen By NASA Probe Stretches One Million Miles

Something described as a "filament" sounds like such a tiny thing.

But check out this ginormous solar filament NASA spotted on Sept. 30, courtesy of the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) spacecraft, in the video above and photos below.

Solar filaments are clouds of solar material, which become suspended by powerful magnetic forces above the sun's surface. Filaments aren't rare, but one of this size certainly stands out -- straightened out, the filament would measure around one million miles in length.

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solar filament
The solar filament appears as a dark snaking line embedded across the upper right of the sun in this image, which was taken on Sept. 30, 2014. NASA's SDO captured the image in extreme UV light. The Earth is shown to scale.

NASA says the spacecraft's photos may hold clues to what causes solar filaments, and how they trigger huge eruptions from the sun called coronal mass ejections.

These eruptions can disrupt the flow of solar wind and even send high-energy particles toward Earth.

“That’s one of the coolest things about a filament — when it finally lifts off and you’ll see these million-mile things just rip off the surface of the sun,” astrophysicist Dean Pesnell, project scientist for the Solar Dynamics Observatory, told the Los Angeles Times.

nasa solar filament
NASA's SDO captured these images of a solar filament in extreme UV light, using different wavelengths to show the solar material at different temperatures.

Filaments can last for days or even weeks. So this impressive one may be around for quite a while.

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