The two major solar observatories, SDO and SOHO, both saw a massive solar event in exceptional clarity. Starting April 28th, a huge solar plasma loop broke away and was blasted millions of miles out into space from the surface of the Sun! This massive outburst of energy comes during the peak of the 11-year solar activity cycle, and shows us just how incredible and energetic our home star can be.
Solar filaments like the one that broke away are long chains of solar plasma, a state of matter where super-heated gas becomes stripped of its electrons. The plasma filaments follow invisible magnetic loops emerging from deep within the Sun. When they sit near the surface they are slightly cooler than the surrounding solar surface, and so they appear dark and are called Sunspots. When they rise high above the surface of the Sun we call them prominences.
Eventually the magnetic field lines break apart and the hot gas contained within can break away and fly out into space, in what we call a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME). When a CME is pointed at Earth, we see an increase in auroral activity around 36 hours later as the material reaches Earth.
Luckily the massive plasma ejection was pointed nowhere near the Earth this time, so we get to enjoy the stunning views. Here is a video of the outburst from SDO and SOHO cameras.
An image of the outburst also became the APOD for April 27th.
Its a reminder that all of the objects in our Universe are not quiescent. They shift, swirl, and deform on different timescales, and even though a star like our Sun seems stable and unchanging from Earth, its surface boils and bursts even as you read these words. The nuclear engine that keeps us alive.