An enormous solar eruption is spotted by NASA's Solar Orbiter

It lashed out for millions of miles beyond the sun's surface.
Chris Young
The image of the solar eruption.Solar Orbiter/EUI Team/ESA & NASA

NASA and the European Space Agency's (ESA's) Solar Orbiter spacecraft captured the largest solar prominence eruption observed to date.

The stunning image shows the solar eruption extending millions of miles into space, as per a report by ESA.

According to the ESA, the eruption was so powerful that even the ESA/JAXA BepiColombo mission spacecraft, currently orbiting Mercury detected a "massive increase in the readings for electrons, protons, and heavy ions with its radiation monitor."

What are solar prominences?

Solar prominences are composed of magnetic field lines that suspend ejected solar plasma far beyond the Sun's surface. They often occur alongside coronal mass ejections, large expulsions of magnetic field and plasma, sometimes referred to as "solar tsunamis", that have the potential to knock out the world's internet due to the adverse effects of their violent geomagnetic activity on the world's electronics equipment.

The solar prominence captured in the new image occurred on February 15 and it was directed away from Earth. According to the ESA, they know this because the Solar Orbiter spacecraft is approaching the Earth-Sun line and no signature of the eruption can be seen on the Sun's surface.

The image was captured by the 'Full Sun Imager' (FSI) of the Extreme Ultraviolet Imager (EUI) aboard the Solar Orbiter. The FSI was designed to capture the entire solar disc of the Sun at all times. In its report, the ESA explained that "the prominence observed by Solar Orbiter is the largest ever event of its kind to be captured in a single field of view together with the solar disc, opening up new possibilities to see how events like these connect to the solar disc for the first time."

An enormous solar eruption is spotted by NASA's Solar Orbiter
An artist's impression of the Solar Orbiter. Source: ESA

An "important reminder" of the Sun's "unpredictable nature"

NASA's Parker Solar Probe, the first human-made spacecraft to ever "touch" the Sun, was also making observations during the coronal mass ejection. Next week, both the Parker Solar Probe and the Solar Orbiter will train their cameras on the Sun at the same time to make dedicated joint observations during Parker's perihelion passage. 

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As the ESA points out, this latest solar eruption caused no damage to Earth. However, it serves as an "important reminder of the unpredictable nature of the Sun and the importance of understanding and monitoring its behavior," the agency explains. As a report by Forbes recently explained, we may be unprepared for an "internet apocalypse", caused by a particularly violent solar eruption, that could cost businesses as much as $7.2 billion per day to the US economy. Missions like the Parker Solar Probe and the Solar Orbiter are helping us gain a better understanding of the star sustaining life on our planet, but their findings may also help to protect us.

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