60,000-mile-tall 'plasma waterfall' snapped showering the sun with impossibly fast fire

The polar crown prominence, a huge wall of descending plasma, was recently caught in a newly discovered, exquisitely detailed image of the sun.

A stunning image of a huge wall of plasma being spat out near the south pole of the sun and then plummeting toward the surface at impossibly high velocities has been captured by an astrophotographer.

The eye-catching photo was taken on March 9 by Eduardo Schaberger Poupeau, an Argentine photographer who lives close to Rafaela. According to Poupeau, the plasma wall "raised about 100,000 km [kilometers, or 62,000 miles] above the celestial surface" (opens in new tab). To put that in perspective, it is equivalent to about eight Earths piled on top of one another. Poupeau continued, "On my computer screen, it appeared as though hundreds of plasma strands were trickling down a wall.

According to Spaceweather.com, the brilliant occurrence is known as a polar crown prominence (PCP). PCPs are loops of plasma, or ionized gas, that are expelled from the solar surface by magnetic fields, identical to regular solar prominences. However, PCPs are found close to the sun's magnetic poles between 60 and 70 degrees North and south, where they frequently fall back towards the sun due to the greater magnetic fields there, according to NASA . They have the moniker "plasma cascades" as a result of their decline back toward the sun.

Because it is still enclosed in the magnetic field that first ejected PCPs, the plasma within them isn't actually falling. But according to NASA, the plasma is moving down at a rate of up to 22,370 mph (36,000 km/h), which is much quicker than the magnetic fields should be able to support. Scientists are still attempting to understand how this is feasible.

The slow phase, during which plasma slowly shoots upward, and the fast phase, during which plasma accelerates towards its altitude peak, are the two phases that PCPs go through during their eruptions, according to a study that was published in 2021 in the journal Frontiers in Physics. More study is required to determine whether this will actually change how the plasma returns to the surface.

Because coronal mass ejections, which are enormous magnetized plasma plumes that have the potential to completely break away from the sun and crash into Earth, can occur in conjunction with solar prominences, solar scientists frequently research them. Nuclear physicists are also interested in PCPs because the magnetic field of the sun appears to be especially good at containing the plasma loops in the pole areas. This information may help scientists develop experimental nuclear fusion reactors.

Despite the fact that images of the phenomenon like the one Poupeau caught are uncommon, PCPs are very prevalent and could occur almost every day. PCPs, like many other plasma-related solar events, could, however, increase in frequency and intensity as the sun approaches the solar maximum, the apex of its 11-year solar cycle.

On February 2, a large solar prominence that was just below the required latitude to be classified as a PCP detached from the sun and spent about 8 hours engulfed in a vast and swiftly moving polar vortex near the north pole of the sun. On September 5, 2022, a huge, wavy stream of plasma snaked across the solar surface, and on September 24, 2022, a gigantic, 1-million-mile-long plume of plasma burst from the sun's surface after another prominence split in two.