Sorry, Grand Canyon! Here's a 200,000-Mile-Long Gulf on the Surface of the Sun

You've seen the sun erupt. But you've never seen the sun erupt quite like this.

"Coronal mass ejection" is an unfortunate term: It does little to convey the awesomeness of what it's describing. Which is, basically, an enormous protrusion of magnetic filament from the swirling surface of the sun. A solar burp, if you will.

Late last month, NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory—which constantly observes the sun in a variety of wavelengths—captured an exceptionally extraordinary example of sunbelch coronal mass ejection: a filament of solar material that ripped through the atmosphere of the sun. The eruption, in this case, was 200,000 miles long. It consisted of material that approached 2 million degrees Fahrenheit. And it left in its wake a structure that resembles, as NASA puts it, "a canyon of fire."

In the video above, created by visualizers at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center and combining two days of satellite data, you can see the eruption captured at different wavelengths. The red images highlight the temperature the solar plasma (90,000° F). The yellow images depict the material that courses along the sun's magnetic field lines. (Its temperature? 1,000,000° F.) The browner images at the beginning show material at temperatures of 1,800,000° F, and it is here where the canyon of fire imagery is most obvious. The canyon, NASA explains, traces the channel where magnetic fields held the filament aloft before the explosion. ​And it gives a whole new meaning to the term "fire pit." 

Hat tip to the sun-spotting Mr. Alan Taylor

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Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic. She was formerly an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab, where she wrote about innovations in the media.

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