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Coronal Mass Ejection

Wed 27th Nov 2002 00:51 BST by Andrew from Bath, U.K.
[ Sun with CME in progress ]

Looks like there's a coronal mass ejection (CME) happening right now. That is to say that the Sun is actively throwing a large lump of it's constituent gas into space. Choose the LASCO 3 image on the far right of the second row. The solid blue circle at center is a mask used to block out the brilliance of the Sun's surface and lower atmosphere so that the LASCO 3 camera can peer at the fainter gases of the Sun's outer atmosphere. The small white circle represents the apparent size of the Sun. In the current shot at the time of writing, the bright white blob at center left with the horizontal line through it is the planet Mercury captured as it moves away from the Sun after it's recent superior conjunction (i.e. it's orbit took it behind the Sun). The dimmer white blob at lower left is the star Antares in Scorpio, so named because of it's red colour and as a rival to that of Mars. The CME is the collection of whispy white arcs moving to the top right of the image. The Sun has been unusually active for an unusually long time after it's recent solar maximum. The SOHO spacecraft, of which the LASCO 3 camera is just one instrument of, sits in an orbit where the gravitational pull of the Sun and the pull of the Earth are approximately equal, so SOHO stays put with it's cameras pointing at the Sun constantly throughout the year. Check back at the SOHO website over the coming days to see the stars move slowly to the right of the image (really the Sun moving to the left, but the camera staying centered with the Sun) and the planet Mercury moving away to the left as it whizzes along it's orbit. The dark line from bottom left to the center of the image is a thin support for the central masking disc. If you want to try and get a grasp of the 3D'ness of the image, go see where the Earth, the Sun and Mercury are in relation to one another at Heaven's Above.com, also note where Venus is and how close it is to the Earth at the moment. Venus is currently the obviously bright star in the eastern sky before dawn.

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