NASA said on December 17, 2019, that its Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) observed a kind of magnetic explosion on the sun that scientists had never seen before. The spacecraft spied the explosion when a prominence — a large loop of material launched by an eruption on the sun’s surface — started falling back to the surface. Before it reached the surface, the prominence ran into a snarl of magnetic field lines, sparking a magnetic explosion. A statement from NASA explained:
Scientists have previously seen the explosive snap and realignment of tangled magnetic field lines on the sun – a process known as magnetic reconnection – but never one that had been triggered by a nearby eruption. The observation, which confirms a decade-old theory, may help scientists understand a key mystery about the sun’s atmosphere, better predict space weather, and may also lead to breakthroughs in the controlled fusion and lab plasma experiments.
So the new kind of magnetic explosion – called forced magnetic reconnection – wasn’t entirely unexpected, but it’s been theoretical until now. This sort of explosion was first theorized 15 years ago.
The new observations were published December 17 in the Astrophysical Journal.
Bottom line: A NASA video explains a new kind of explosion observed from the sun.
Eleanor Imster has helped write and edit EarthSky since 1995. She was an integral part of the award-winning EarthSky radio series almost since it began until it ended in 2013. Today, as Lead Editor at EarthSky.org, she helps present the science and nature stories and photos you enjoy. She also serves as one of the voices of EarthSky on social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter and G+. She and her husband live in Tennessee and have two grown sons.