NASA videos reveal explosive events on the sun: a polar vortex of plasma, an X flare, and an eruption from the north pole

NASA videos reveal explosive events on the sun: a polar vortex of plasma, an X flare, and an eruption from the north pole
A prominence emerges near the solar north pole, then appears to break away and swirl in a vortex.NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory
  • Video from NASA telescopes shows a filament on the sun breaking off and swirling around its north pole.
  • A solar physicist called the polar vortex a "scientific curiosity" and hasn't seen anything like it.

A giant filament of plasma appeared to break away from the sun and swirl around its north pole in a tornado-like vortex early this month.

The extreme events continued this week with a north-pole eruption and an X-class solar flare. More activity like this may be in store as the 11-year solar cycle builds to maximum activity, with a peak expected in 2025.

NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured the mysterious cyclone-like event on February 2, in the video above.

"Talk about Polar Vortex," space-weather forecaster Tamitha Skov said on Twitter.

She added that the telescope footage appeared to show a solar prominence — a large, bright filament extending out from the sun, but anchored to the solar surface. In this case, though, it looks like part of the filament broke away and began whipping itself in a circle around our star's north pole.


"It's the first time I have seen something like it," Scott McIntosh, a solar physicist and deputy director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, told Insider in an email. That doesn't necessarily mean it's never happened before, he added.

A polar plasma liftoff and an X-class solar flare followed

On Friday morning, more plasma appeared to be swirling at the solar north pole.

Cool plasma building at the surface of the sun's pole was getting ready to lift off, or erupt, into space.

This activity was "maybe more typical and a lot less swirly," than the prior polar vortex, McIntosh said.

Then, it burst into space: lift-off. A spacecraft operated by the National Weather Service caught that on video, below.


This erupting filament travels to the sun's north pole about once per decade, McIntosh said.

"These are not events disruptive to the Earth at all, just a real scientific curiosity about what's happening at the poles," he said.

Since the eruption happened at the sun's north pole, it wasn't pointed at Earth, so it didn't have the disruptive effects to GPS and radio that some solar explosions can cause.

The solar flare that occurred on Saturday, however, created a temporary radio blackout in South America, according to

It was a powerful X-class flare — stronger than the A-class, C-class, or M-class flares that can create dazzling displays of aurora lights at Earth's poles.


These explosions are incomprehensibly giant and extreme — but they're just part of the sun's normal cycle

The filament that appeared to break off the solar surface and turn into a vortex is huge. This NASA image putting Earth next to a solar prominence should give you an idea of the scale:

NASA videos reveal explosive events on the sun: a polar vortex of plasma, an X flare, and an eruption from the north pole
A solar eruptive prominence as seen in extreme UV light with Earth superimposed for a sense of scale.NASA/SDO

Though he hasn't seen the vortex before, McIntosh told that a solar prominence appears in the same spot — at 55 degrees latitude — during every 11-year solar cycle. It's probably related to the sun's magnetic field reversing every solar cycle, but the exact mechanism causing it is a mystery.

The vortex it seemed to create is equally mysterious.

"Its appearance is more cool than baffling," McIntosh said. "Our initial observation was more of a gee whizz kind of thing."

This post has been updated to include new developments on the sun. It was originally published on February 10, 2023.