Massive Explosion on Surface of Sun Captured in Breathtaking Detail

An astrophotographer has captured a spectacular image showing a "giant" explosion at the sun's surface.

Miguel Claro captured the image of a coronal mass ejection (CME) in February 2022. It has now won second place in the Royal Observatory Greenwich's Astronomy Photographer of the Year (APY) People's Choice Awards 2022. The London observatory announced the winners of the competition on Wednesday.

CMEs are vast expulsions of plasma and embedded magnetic field from the outermost part of the sun's atmosphere.

This material is ejected from the sun at speeds of more than 1 million miles per hour and can reach Earth in up to three days.

A coronal mass ejection on the sun
"A Giant in the Sun's Limb," captured by Miguel Claro has won second place in the Astronomy Photographer of the Year People’s Choice Awards 2022. The image shows a coronal mass ejection that occurred in February, 2022. A Giant in the Sun's Limb © Miguel Claro

The CME in the image began on February 7, 2022, and was observed toward the southeastern "limb" of the sun.

Ed Bloomer, an astronomer with the Royal Observatory and APY judge, told Newsweek that, as CMEs go, this event was not particularly powerful, compared to others.

The CME in question ranked in the "C" bracket on a scale that runs from A to X. This classifies CMEs by their overall power output.

CMEs can have a noticeable impact on the space environment around Earth. These space weather effects can interfere with life and technological infrastructure, in space and on the ground.

For example, the strongest geomagnetic storms on Earth tend to be the result of coronal mass ejections.

The Milky Way seen from the Andes
"Huayhuash" by Daniel Zafra has won first place in the Astronomy Photographer of the Year People’s Choice Awards 2022. The image shows the Milky Way as seen from the Peruvian Andes. Huayhuash © Daniel Zafra

The CME in Claro's image struck Earth's protective magnetic field on February 9, 2022. It produced a minor geomagnetic storm on February 10. Some "decent" natural light displays were observed at high latitudes, Bloomer said.

But even minor storms can cause problems. On that same day, SpaceX's Starlink broadband satellite venture said that a minor geomagnetic storm from February 4 had severely impacted 40 of their spacecraft. This storm caused these satellites to re-enter Earth's atmosphere.

Claro captured his image—dubbed "A Giant in the Sun's Limb"—using an eyepiece to filter out the majority of our star's brightness.

"Miguel captured video footage of the feature," Bloomer said. "Then, he extracted individual frames, and stacked them, reducing the noise in the image and enhancing the signal. As a result, he was left with a bright, clear prominence feature that stands out from a dark background."

The Dolphin-Head Nebula
"The Dolphin Nebula Towards a Cosmic Reef," by Aleix Roig won third place in the Astronomy Photographer of the Year People’s Choice Awards 2022. The image shows the Dolphin-Head Nebula. The Dolphin Nebula Towards a Cosmic Reef © Aleix Roig

The winning images of the People's Choice Awards 2022 were chosen from a shortlist of 24, selected by Royal Museums Greenwich. More than 3,000 photographs were submitted to the competition in 2022.

"Here at the Royal Observatory Greenwich, we look for technical quality, but also aesthetic choices, the rarity of the event or feature, and a great many other aspects to create a shortlist for the People's Choice Award," Bloomer said. "But, for this award, the final decision is in the hands of the public."

The winner of the People's Choice Awards was a mesmerizing image captured by Daniel Zafra. It showed the Milky Way from the Andes mountains in Peru.

Third place in the competition, meanwhile, was awarded to Aleix Roig for his image of the spectacular Dolphin-Head Nebula.

Submissions are still open for the main Astronomy Photographer of the Year's competition. The winners of the 15th edition are set to be announced in September 2023. Pictures must be submitted by March 3, 2023.