The Sun, a crucial and omnipresent aspect of our lives, still holds many mysteries despite its importance. Recently, it has displayed a remarkable occurrence. A filament of plasma from the Sun’s surface broke away and seemingly formed a vortex resembling a crown over the northern solar pole. Further investigation is necessary to confirm if this was the actual event that took place. Currently, scientists claim that they have not encountered anything like this before and the footage is breathtaking.
Solar irregularities are not an uncommon occurrence currently as the Sun is increasing its activity, displaying more sunspot and flare activity. So far this year, it has flared every day and even produced several X-class and M-class flares in January 2023, the largest and second-largest eruptions the Sun can undergo.
There is no reason to be alarmed as the Sun goes through activity cycles every 11 years or so, transitioning from calm to tumultuous. These cycles coincide with changes in the solar magnetic field. When the magnetic field is weakest at the poles, the solar magnetic poles switch places, leading to a reversal of the magnetic field polarity, marking the Sun’s most active period known as solar maximum.
We are currently on the brink of solar maximum, but the current cycle is peculiar as not all cycles are the same, some being stronger and some weaker. Scientists can predict the progression of the solar cycle, but from early on in the current cycle that started in December 2019, the Sun’s activity has greatly exceeded expectations and continues to do so.
This brings us back to the recent unusual event at the polar region on February 2nd. According to scientists, it began with a solar prominence, a bright filament of plasma extending from the Sun’s surface. Solar prominences are normal, but the location and type of this specific prominence were unique. A large “hedgerow” prominence, which resembles a hedge, often occurs around the crown of the Sun at high latitudes. However, what happened next was unprecedented. Material seemed to break away, circling the pole at 60 degrees latitude over a span of 8 hours, at a speed of approximately 96 kilometers per second.
Solar physicist Scott McIntosh of the US National Center for Atmospheric Research, who has been studying the Sun and its cycles for decades, has stated that he has never witnessed a vortex like the one that took place when a piece of the prominence broke away and was flung into the solar atmosphere. Further research is required to uncover more details about this strange occurrence, and scientists are analyzing data from round-the-clock solar observatories to hopefully provide more insight soon. Given the difficulties in observing the solar poles, the findings should be fascinating. McIntosh’s team’s predictions match the observed solar cycle more closely than any other prediction, and you can learn more about his work by visiting the National Center for Atmospheric Research’s website.