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Solar prominences erupt -- and the best is yet to come [Video]

November 19, 2012|By Amy Hubbard
  • NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) captured this image of a double prominence solar eruption of super-hot plasma on November 16, 2012.
NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) captured this image of a… (AFP PHOTO / NASA / SDO )

A solar prominence can be a thing of beauty -- a glowing red, looping structure that can twist and turn hundreds of thousands of miles into space from the surface of the sun and last up to several months.

Two such structures went bad on Friday, however, bursting outward and creating an arresting solar display of their own. (See the video of one eruption below.)

NASA says the sun erupted twice on Friday within four hours.  The looping red plasma -- "a hot gas made of electrically charged hydrogen and helium," the space agency says -- was released in a dramatic double whammy of explosions.  The good news: The released material, known as a coronal mass ejection, did not appear directed at the Earth, experts said.

When a CME heads toward the Earth, it can disrupt radio and satellite transmissions and wreak other havoc with power grids.

The sun follows a cycle of activity of about 11 years, and it hasn't yet reached the busiest part of that cycle -- although it's nearing.

Alex Young, NASA heliophysicist, told the Los Angeles Times in an earlier interview that we're still months, if not a year or more, away from "solar maximum."

"We ... expect to reach it toward the end of 2013 or into 2014," Young said. "We will continue to see active sunspot regions come and go but with the frequency and intensity slowly increasing. So there will be more to come."

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