NASA spacecraft have captured pictures of a huge filament of super-hot plasma being ejected from the Sun on August 31, 2012. The Sun is approaching a period of peak activity (in 2013) and coronal mass ejections (CME’s) such as this may become more common. NASA estimates the size of the eruption as 186,000 miles long or about the size of 30 planet Earths. The filament strung out from the Sun’s surface and then exploded as a CME. According to LiveScience:
Coronal mass ejections are made of charged particles, and when they collide with Earth, they can disrupt satellite and radio communications and damage power grids. A more benevolent effect of CMEs is that auroras, also known as the Northern and Southern Lights, can put on especially beautiful shows as these charged particles hit Earth’s magnetic field.
NASA wiped their brow said the Earth did not take a direct hit from the CME:
The CME did not travel directly toward Earth, but did connect with Earth’s magnetic environment, or magnetosphere, with a glancing blow, causing an aurora to appear on the night of Monday, September 3.
The photo below shows the whip-like filament extending across the surface of the Sun.
NASA created these 3D conversions of the filament photo in an effort to estimate its size.