A CORONAL MASS EJECTION, or CME, has been spotted erupting away from the Sun, in images taken by the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) spacecraft.
According to the SOHO web site, a CME is a “huge magnetic bubble of plasma that erupts from the Sun’s corona and travels through space at high speed.” Plasma is gas that has been ” heated to sufficiently high temperatures that the atoms ionise”.
When a CME occurs, the plasma shoots out into space and travels through the Solar System. If the timing is right (or wrong, depending on your point of view), a CME can head directly toward Earth.
The first image is a wide field, showing the CME in action on January 14, 2014. The Sun has been blocked out in order to show detail in its outer atmosphere. (The white circle shows the size of the Sun – 1.4 million kilometres, or 870,00 thousand miles, in diameter.) The bright point of light in the top right is the planet Venus. (The white flare on either side of Venus is not real; it is an artifact of the imaging process.)
The second image shows a slightly narrower field, again with the Sun blocked out.
SOHO orbits the Sun at a special location between the Sun and the Earth called the L1 Lagrange point. At this location, the gravity of the Sun and Earth balances out, enabling the spacecraft to circle the Sun while always staying on a line between Earth and Sun. It is owned and operated jointly by NASA and the European Space Agency.
Adapted from information issued by NASA and ESA.
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