The twisted magnetic fields inside of sunspots have as much or more effect on the Sun's outer layers as the gravity of our star itself. As the field lines tangle up
, vast towers of ionized gas (called plasma) can erupt, sometimes collapsing back onto the solar surface, and sometimes blasting off into space. These are called prominences
, and can take on all sorts of fantastic shapes, usually in the form of plumes or arcs.
Solar photographer Alan Friedman took these two shots of two different prominences, both of which made me laugh when I saw them: the top one looks like a cat nuzzling the Sun, and the bottom one like a dragon!
Expect to see more pictures like this over the coming years, as the Sun's activity gets even more common. Hopefully, we'll also see a dog, and perhaps St. George.Image credit: Alan Friedman
Original images: Cat