Space agencies around the world have been capturing some strange solar phenomena lately. NASA recently photographed what appears to be a creepy smiley face on the surface of the sun around Halloween. More recently, though, the European Space Agency (ESA) shared a clip of an even weirder phenomenon. One of their spacecrafts recorded what appears to be a “snake” slithering across the surface of our sun. Check out the now-viral video below.
Hopefully, you paid close attention because the sun snake isn’t as noticeable as we might expect. If not, no worries; we’re here watching it on loop anyway.
To see the snake’s full path, look toward the lower-right region of the sun near at the bright spot. There, what looks like a bright yellow serpent-like creature emerges. It then zips across the star in an S-shaped path before disappearing again.
According to CNET, the strange phenomenon was captured by the ESA’s Solar Orbiter spacecraft. The footage above is actually a timelapse of our sun which was taken on September 5th. The timestamp on the timelapse itself measures just a few seconds long. However, it actually took the “snake” three hours to travel across the sun, even though it traveled at 106 miles per second.
Dive In to the Origins of the Sun ‘Snake’
Okay, obviously, there aren’t any supermassive serpents living beneath the surface of the sun. So, if not a solar snake, what exactly are we looking at?
The quick answer? Plasma. The news outlet states that the snake, captured on camera by the orbiter’s Extreme Ultraviolet Imager, was created by an “interplay” between the plasma that makes up the sun overall and its magnetic field. Specifically, the timelapse sees plasma beneath the surface of the sun responding to “lines” in the star’s magnetic field, essentially following a single specified path that suspiciously resembles the movements of a snake.
The ESA said in a statement on Monday, “The plasma in the snake is following a particularly long filament of the sun’s magnetic field that is reaching from one side of the sun to the other.”
While the video footage itself is captivating, the sun snake was of special interest to scientists for a completely different reason. Not long after the plasma rocketed across the sun’s surface, international space agencies recorded a solar eruption that sent plasma shooting across space.
Given this information, the ESA suggested that perhaps the snake was a precursor to the solar eruption. The agency specifically said, “What makes the snake so intriguing is that it began from a solar active region that later erupted, ejecting billions of tonnes of plasma into space.”
So far, scientists have not given a definitive answer about any potential correlation. Still, experts are hoping phenomena like the sun snake will eventually help us better understand solar weather patterns which, in turn, could help us understand how these conditions affect communication and navigation technology here on Earth.