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Watch: Sun BELCHES PLASMA large enough to ENGULF 35 EARTHS

Fiery footage from NASA's IRIS imager

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NASA's Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) has filmed some impressive footage of a coronal mass ejection (CME) - the first such footage to come from the "Small Explorer Mission" to examine the Sun's lower atmosphere.

Captured on 9 May, the video shows a "giant sheet of solar material" about "five Earths wide and about seven-and-a-half Earths tall" in the field of view. The agency elaborates: "The IRIS imagery focuses in on material of 30,000 kelvins at the base, or foot points, of the CME.

Still from the IRIS video of the CME. Pic: NASA

35 Earths' worth of coronal mass ejection

"The line moving across the middle of the movie is the entrance slit for IRIS's spectrograph, an instrument that can split light into its many wavelengths – a technique that ultimately allows scientists to measure temperature, velocity and density of the solar material behind the slit."

Since IRIS has to "commit to pointing at certain areas of the Sun at least a day in advance", there was a certain amount of luck involved in getting the money shot.

Bart De Pontieu, IRIS boffin at the Lockheed Martin Solar & Astrophysics Laboratory, enthused: "We focus in on active regions to try to see a flare or a CME. And then we wait and hope that we'll catch something. This is the first clear CME for IRIS so the team is very excited."

NASA is building an impressive portfolio of solar eruption videos. Back in April, the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) spied a "graceful" flare, and just a week before both the SDO and IRIS - in conjunction with other spacecraft - turned their attention to what is to date the "best observed" X-class flare:

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