A ‘snake’ slithers across the sun

NASA

A giant snakelike magnetic filament stretches out along the southeastern limb of the sun.

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory has captured what appears to be a giant snake slithering along the sun’s southeastern limb. The feature is actually a magnetic loop of dense gas suspended over the solar surface.

The snaky filament, which was first noticed last week by NASA’s STEREO-B spacecraft stationed over the sun’s eastern horizon, showed signs of instability and had the potential for an impressive eruption, according to SpaceWeather.com. You’ve got to see SpaceWeather’s time-lapse animated image of the flare-up.

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An eruption of a solar flare and magnetic filament in August sent two waves of electrically charged particles towards Earth and caused a spectacular display of the northern lights. Will this filament, which is more than 435,000 miles long, or almost twice the distance from the Earth to the moon, have a similar effect? Stay tuned to SpaceWeather.com for pictures and updates.

Update for 7 p.m. ET: As a commenter has noted below, the eruption has taken place. SpaceWeather.com says “the eruption does not appear to be geoeffective,” which means there should be no impact on Earth. Phew!

More views of the sun:

* Photoblog: Stare at the sun * See a twister spin on the sun * Solar shocker: Sun storms change directions * ‘Spectacular’ sights come from solar probe

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John Roach is a contributing writer for msnbc.com. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by hitting the “like” button on the Cosmic Log Facebook page or following msnbc.com’s science editor, Alan Boyle, on Twitter (@b0yle).

URL: http://cosmiclog.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2010/12/06/5598475-a-snake-slithers-across-the-sun

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