The Sun Is Spitting Out ‚Lava Lamp Blobs‘ 500 Times the Size of Earth

Massive blasts of plasma can launch forth when the sun’s magnetic field lines tangle, break and recombine. (Image: © NASA/GSFC/Solar Dynamics Observatory)
The sun’s corona constantly breathes wispy strings of hot, charged particles into space — a phenomenon we call the solar wind. Every now and then, however, those breaths become full-blown burps.

By Brandon Specktor |

Perhaps as often as once every hour or two, according to a study in the February issue of the journal JGR: Space Physics, the plasma underlying the solar wind grows significantly hotter, becomes noticeably denser, and it pops out of the sun in rapid-fire orbs of goo capable of engulfing entire planets for minutes or hours at a time. Officially, these solar burps are called periodic density structures, but astronomers have nicknamed them „the blobs.“ Take a look at images of them streaming off of the sun’s atmosphere, and you’ll see why. [The 12 Strangest Objects in the Universe]

„They look like the blobs in a lava lamp,“ Nicholeen Viall, a research astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland and co-author of the recent study, told Live Science. „Only they are hundreds of times larger than the Earth.“

While astronomers have known about the blobs for nearly two decades, the origin and impact of these regular solar weather events remain largely mysterious. Until recently, the only observations of the blobs have come from Earth-bound satellites, which can detect when a train of blobs bears down on Earth’s magnetic field; however, these satellites can’t account for the myriad ways the blobs have changed during their 4-day, 93-million-mile (150 million kilometers) journey from the sun.

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