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December 20: A Prominence Eruption

  December 20: Prominence Eruption  
  SWAP-SDO Prominence Eruption  


Click on the above image for a link to a movie showing a joint SWAP-SDO observation of a prominence eruption



Prominence or filament eruptions (don't get us started on the long and silly history of giving the same feature in the solar atmosphere two different names!) are common occurrences, sometimes happening several times a day during periods of great activity on the sun. But, as we wrote on December 13, the solar physics community still doesn't really agree on exactly how and why these huge eruptions occur. One of the ways in which scientists try to deduce their causes is to track the rate at which these erupting structures rise, since different acceleration profiles have been linked to different eruption mechanisms. (Readers who want a deeper look at just how this is done might want to have a look at this paper, by Schrijver et al.) One of the challenges in doing this, however, is that while SDO and other imagers reveal the rise of these structures at low heights in dramatic detail, they simply can't track the full extent of their rise. That's where SWAP can be useful. Merging observations from AIA on SDO with observations from SWAP allows us a close-up view of the early rise of a prominence eruption, and a chance to track its evolution as it reaches larger heights and, eventually, becomes visible in coronagraph images.

The movie linked above shows a particularly dramatic example of one such eruption that occurred on April 16, 2012. The movie stitches together observations from AIA's 17.1 nm channel (on the right) and SWAP's similar 17.4 nm channel (on the left). You can see the running time in the upper right and a handy height scale (in solar-radii) on the bottom. Using all of this information together, we can assemble a pretty clear picture of the rise of this impressive eruption. Little SWAP on PROBA2 doesn't have the same resolution of frame rate as AIA on big SDO does, but at a tiny fraction of the cost, its still achieving great things, extending our view — and understanding — of the corona to great new heights.

Similar combinations of observations have already been used successfully by researchers to study the mechanisms that drove other eruptions in the corona as well.