No, a Piece of the Sun Didn’t Just ‘Break Off’

The CBC reports:

You may have seen stories over the past week or so with headlines like, “Part of the sun breaks free and forms a strange vortex, baffling scientists,” or “Unbelievable moment a piece of the sun BREAKS OFF baffles scientists” or even “NASA captures piece of sun breaking off, baffles scientists.” It all started with a harmless, informative tweet. Tamitha Skov, a space weather forecaster and science communicator, just broke away from the main filament… Implications for understanding the sun’s atmospheric dynamics above 55 degrees here cannot be overstated!”

But are scientists actually baffled? Tamitha Skov laughs. “No,” she said….

The eight-hour event started off with a solar prominence (also known as a solar filament), that began to rise up near the north pole of the sun, which is seen at the top in satellite images. Prominences are made up of plasma, a hot gas of electrically charged hydrogen and helium. They are common on the sun, but it was the location of this one — at the sun’s north pole — that was of particular interest to heliophysicists. “What ended up happening was something that started off as a very normal, average, what we call a polar crown filament. It became this kind of tweeted her excitement that “material from a northern prominence big tower, like a big volcano that was beginning to rise up near the very northern pole,” Skov explained. The prominence was near the top of the north pole, above 60 degrees latitude where it got caught in an electromagnetic wind. “And it began to yank and pull at some of the material in that prominence,” Skov said.

“So it was rising like a hot air balloon, so to speak, up in the air. And as it cooled, instead of just cooling back down and falling, or perhaps erupting, like a normal polar crown filament, part of it got ripped off in this wind. And as it shredded off into this wind, we got to watch it cool down, swirl in a vortex. And that is a very rare, if not, fundamentally new observation.”
It looks like the material ultimately just returns to the surface of the sun — albeit providing clues about the sun’s polar winds and the specifics of its magnetic activity cycle.

Skov also says that the sun’s magnetic polar fields “flip” during its 22-year solar cycle, which increases the odds of non-charged particles traveling to the poles, according to the article. “So scientists weren’t baffled, since they already had some knowledge about this type of activity. But they were thrilled to be able to witness it.”

Thanks to long-time Slashdot reader aduxorth for sharing the news.

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