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Big Photo voltaic Filament Snakes Throughout Solar in Gorgeous NASA Photograph

A dark line more than half a million miles long curves over the lower half of the Sun in a beautiful photo captured by a NASA spacecraft.

The line is referred to by scientists as solar filament, a large region of dense, cool gas held in place by magnetic fields. According to NASA officials, a straight line would make the filament more than 858,000 kilometers long – the equivalent of about 67 earths arranged side by side.

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), which took the picture on February 10, registers colder materials in the solar atmosphere as dark and hotter as light.

“SDO captured images of the filament at numerous wavelengths, each of which helps highlight material at different temperatures on the sun,” NASA officials wrote in a description of the image.

By capturing images of filaments at different wavelengths and temperatures, scientists can learn more about their causes. Red images highlighting plasma at temperatures of 50,000 degrees Celsius are good for observing filaments as they form and break out, NASA officials said.

The February 10 filament was certainly quite large, but the sun has hosted even larger ones in the past. For example, in October 2014, SDO discovered a filament 1 million miles in length – more than 100 times the width of the Earth and longer than the diameter of the Sun, which is approximately 1.39 billion km (865,000 miles).

Filaments, although sometimes benign, can be explosive. When filaments break through the solar atmosphere, known as the corona, they release a shower of solar plasma particles that either rain back onto the solar surface or escape into space and become a moving cloud known as coronal mass ejection (CME).

On September 2, 2014, SDO recorded a video of a solar filament eruption believed to have sent a wave of solar particles to Earth. CMEs that collide with Earth can create geomagnetic storms that disrupt electronics, cause radio dropouts, and create stunning aurors.

Follow us on @Spacedotcom, Facebook or Google+. Originally published on Space.com.

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