On Thursday, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) captured this colorful close-up video of a long-lasting M-class solar flare.
The eruption shot out of active region 1401, a large sunspot that’s been spitting flares about once a day since satellites saw it advancing onto the sun’s Earth-facing disk.
As seen in the new video, the latest flare was followed by a coronal mass ejection, or CME, that was aimed right at Earth.
Scientists predict this cloud of solar particles could reach our planet on Saturday, giving weekend sky-watchers a better than average chance of witnessing some glorious auroras.
Meanwhile, the video itself shows the sun in a bevy of brilliant hues because SDO is able to capture pictures in ten wavelengths every ten seconds.
In this composite footage, each color represents a different temperature region of the sun, which corresponds to one of our star’s layers.
For instance, in the picture here, data from SDO is used to “paint” several layers onto the sun.
The “flat” yellow at the far left is the sun’s surface, or photosphere, which is a mere 10,800 degrees F (6,000 degrees C). Pictures of the relatively cool photosphere allow us to see the even colder, darker blobs called sunspots that signal magnetic activity on the sun’s surface.
The turbulent gold region is the layer between the chromosphere (lower atmosphere) and the corona (upper atmosphere). This mid-temperature zone is around 1.8 million degrees F (a million degrees C).
Next, swirling blues and greens represent three different wavelengths from the corona, where temperatures can soar up to 3.6 million degrees F (two million degrees C).
Finally, the far right panel includes an illustration of the sun’s magnetic field lines, which spring from and connect the active regions on the photosphere.
Scientists can use SDO’s penetrating gaze to try and solve a number of solar mysteries, such as why the star’s upper atmosphere is so much hotter than its surface—the reverse of the situation on Earth.
In addition, solar experts can use SDO to examine the link between activity on the sun’s surface and the often abrupt discharges of material from the corona. When aimed at Earth, CMEs can not only trigger auroras but, if they’re intense enough, they can also damage satellites and the power grid.