Thanks to the skills of astrophotographer Andrew McCarthy, we're able to see an incredible “tree” that has been “planted” on the Sun. Clocking in at an impressive 80,000 miles high, this isn't any ordinary tree. It's actually made from plasma that has been pulled away from the Sun by its magnetic field.
This type of occurrence is actually known as a solar prominence, which NASA defines as “a large, bright feature extending outward from the Sun's surface.” Anchored to its surface, they stretch out into the Sun's outer atmosphere, or corona. In his post on Instagram, McCarthy estimates that this particular solar prominence, which does look like a tree, is the size of Jupiter.
Eventually, this “tree” will rain “moon-sized gobs” of plasma down on the Sun. It's an event that McCarthy calls “an apocalyptic thunderstorm.” This phenomenon is known as coronal rain. It occurs when the hot plasma cools and condenses in the magnetic field. When this happens, the cooled plasma rains back down into the photosphere.
As always, McCarthy gives us a fascinating astronomy lesson wrapped in a stunning visual. Through his photography, mainly taken in his backyard, he's been able to capture the solar system in an exciting and dynamic matter. And thanks to his prolific posts, he's teaching the public not only about outer space, but also about astrophotography. In fact, a recent post of his on Twitter is a fantastic reminder about safety when working with telescopes.
McCarthy uses a specially tuned telescope that is “designed to reject the Sun's heat while letting in a precise type of light in to reveal the solar atmosphere.” As demonstrated in a video on Twitter, if a regular telescope was aimed at the Sun it would reflect light hot enough to burn a hole in a piece of wood.
If you are interested in supporting McCarthy's astrophotography, he has a Patreon with special perks for supporters.
Andrew McCarthy photographed a plasma “tree” the size of Jupiter shooting up from the Sun's surface.
He uses a special telescope that can be aimed at the Sun and posted a reminder of what would happen if he tried this with a regular telescope.
This is why you don’t point a telescope at the sun. Imagine if that was your eyeball. pic.twitter.com/0yVgO3gwXZ
— Andrew McCarthy (@AJamesMcCarthy) January 11, 2022