March 13, 2012 - What was that odd, dark blob protruding from the Sun recently? Some thought it might be a spacecraft refueling.
Turns out the black sphere was not a spaceship, but what scientists call a "prominence." It is clearly visible in a series of images released by Solar Dynamics Observatory and processed by NASA.
"Telescope images captured of the sun on Monday (March 12)," reports LiveScience.com, "show what appears to be a planet-size shadowy object tethered to the sun by a dark filament."
To my own eye, it looks more like a planet-sized sperm cell, but I don't actually think that that's what it is.
"In the image sequence," says LiveScience, "a burst of brightly lit material can be seen erupting from the sun's surface surrounding the dark object, after which the orb detaches from the sun and shoots out into space."
The second video here shows the formation of the blob from multiple sunclones. This video was posted to YouTube by TheDanCaudle, who noted that "This is another example of the plasma void created by one massive sunclone on March 10-11 2012. This is very peculiar on many counts."
These are streams of plasma, sometimes forming "solar tornadoes." It is not clear what the dark blob was on March 12, but my own guess it that it was just the gathering of the plasma in a cloud-like formation.
"Complex magnetic fields operating in the Sun's outer reaches," says an ITN report, can cause plasma clouds "to lift and swirl before falling back down again."
NASA scientists don't think this is either a spaceship or, as some others theorized, the birth of a new planet. The scientists are probably still chuckling over the fact that some folks think such crazy things.