Coronal mass ejections (CMEs) are quite possibly the most terrifying storms in the solar system (yes, even more horrifying than Jupiter’s Great Red Spot). Imagine an explosion that sends 100 billion kg (220 billion pounds) of superheated material storming towards you at speeds reaching 1000 km/second (2 million mph). That’s essentially what coronal mass ejections are. If you happened to be close to this event, saying that you would be incinerated would be an understatement of epic proportions. These events can release as much energy as one billion hydrogen bombs.
In short, these solar events are amazingly powerful and amazingly destructive. And we had an opportunity to witness one of these events recently. The footage was captured by IRIS, which launched in June of last year. IRIS’ mission was to observe the lowest levels of the Sun’s atmosphere with better resolution, offering us a clearer view of our star. And it sure delivered.
Watch as the CME captured by IRIS consumes a field of view five-Earths wide and seven-and-a-half-Earths tall, and all of it racing from the Sun at speeds of 1.5-million miles per hour. According to NASA, “IRIS must commit to pointing at certain areas of the sun at least a day in advance, so catching a CME in the act involves some educated guesses and a little bit of luck.” This is the first clear CME that IRIS caught; let’s hope that a lot more are on their way.