Have I ever mentioned that I am a total sucker for space pictures? I think I have.
This glorious picture of our sun comes courtesy of Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy blog. It is a composite of two separate images in the extreme ultraviolet range — 304 and 171 angstroms, to be exact, where magnetic activity that is normally invisible can be seen clearly — colorized for your amazement. The big bright yellow loopy thing in the upper left is a sunspot, stunningly beautiful at these wavelengths. The coronal mass ejection (CME) is the long orange-red stream reaching down to the left. To give a sense of scale, click here for the same (although a little less colorized) image with a picture of the Earth added in.
The CME occured around 4:36 p.m. Eastern time on August 31, 2012. It was not big as such things go: NASA classified it as only a C8 flare, which is at the top end of the least powerful category. It was not aimed directly at the Earth, and would not have caused problems even if it had been, but it was enough to trigger a major display at the poles. Spaceweather.com has some amazing pictures of the auroras, and a movie of the CME occuring in real time.