On Wednesday, May 1st—perhaps best known as May Day or International Workers’ Day—the sun had a massive solar eruption that lasted for about two-and-a-half hours. The eruption, which was recorded by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, is officially known as a coronal mass ejection (CME).
CMEs are sun storms that can release billions of tons worth of solar material at speeds of up to 1.6 million miles per hour. Wednesday’s eruption looked like “a gigantic rolling wave,” according to officials at NASA, and ejected a huge wave of plasma into the space surrounding the sun.
This CME wasn’t aimed toward Earth, luckily; powerful eruptions that occur while facing the earth’s surface can cause problems for satellites, astronauts, communications and navigation networks, and ground-based power infrastructures.
CMEs are caused by what is called “magnetic reconnection,” which is caused when magnetic field lines must rearrange. This happens when two opposite magnetic fields are connected together, causing a huge release of energy. They have been associated with other occurrences like solar flares.
Check out The Guardian to see the full video of the CME as recorded by NASA. The original storm lasted for about 2.5 hours, but the video recording has been sped up to show the CME in just 18 seconds.
The sun has solar cycles that generally last about eleven years and are made up of “solar minimums” and “solar maximums.” If the sun does not have many active sunspots (over which CMEs are much more likely to occur), it is considered to be in a solar minimum. When there are increased numbers of active sunspots, the sun is at a solar maximum. Solar cycles are also thought to affect weather here on Earth.