The Sun and its Prominences

Published on October 18, 2016 by Hannah Hynds  
Image credit: Pete Lawrence
Image credit: Pete Lawrence

On September 11, 2016 a monster prominence was observed as it erupted from the surface of the Sun. A prominence is a large, bright flare that extends outwards from the Sun’s surface. The gases are then held above the surface by the Sun’s magnetic field. This particular prominence rose over 50,000 kilometers above the surface of the Sun! That distance is almost four times the diameter of the earth. Below the monster prominence lies an active region, which is an area with a very strong magnetic field. Around this area, filaments are seen hovering over the surface of the Sun. These filaments are actually just prominences that are seen against the disk of the sun. Unfortunately, extraordinary events like these monster prominences are happening less frequently as the Sun approaches its minimum in its 11-year activity cycle. This cycle is related to the number of visible sunspots at a particular time. The number of sunspots waxes and wanes during an 11-year cycle. Sunspots are formed when the Sun’s magnetic field rises and pokes through the surface of the Sun. Sunspots are a lot darker than the areas surrounding them, and they are constantly being formed as the magnetic field moves through the Sun. Sunspots and prominences are incredible to observe and hopefully we will get chance soon to see another stunning monster prominence occur.