One of the biggest mysteries is why the visible surface of the sun comes in at a warm 5,000—10,000 F, but the temperature of the sun’s corona is hundreds of times greater. So hot it’s a plasma, a fourth state of matter, where the usual atomic family of protons and electrons are broken up.
The plasma is super-heated, to a toasty couple of million degrees, and extends out from the sun for millions of miles. It slowly fades away and fuels the particulate portion of the solar wind. A gale of hydrogen and helium nuclei that blows into interstellar space for light-years. By some accounts, the bow shock, the boundary where the sizzling hot solar sleet gives way to the usual cold vacuum between stars in the Milky Way, is the official edge of our solar system. An important question in solar astronomy and climate science concerns how much of the sun’s total heat output, especially that which is intercepted by Earth, comes from that corona.
Another interesting thing to figure out is what role the corona plays in producing enormous loops of fiery starstuff, some of which give rise to giant streamers of plasma, flares that reach out from the sun and lick the surface of nearby planets like a flame-thrower. Some of these displays are beautiful, while some of the worst could also be destructive.
That was in 2012 and that single loop was bigger than worlds. Sometimes, those events or others like them break away from the sun at a thousand miles per second and head out towards planets and moons. If one were to strike Earth, well, we can’t say for sure what might happen, because we haven’t experienced a really big one hitting close to home in 150 years. The last time that happened was way back in 1859, when a coronal mass ejection hit our planet dead on. You can read more about it here, but the short version is, if one like it happened today, it could fry our delicate intertoobz infrastructure, destroy the protective ozone layer thus laying waste to crops and phyto-plankton, and crash the entire global economy in the process.
The corona is a magical place that was only revealed only during total solar eclipses throughout history. It’s only in the last few decades that we even understood it existed, let alone its importance. On August 21, it will become a living laboratory of churning magnetic chaos visible to anyone in the path of totality lucky to have a clear view—and with eyes properly protected.
Here are some links on how to observe the eclipse safely along with some info on times and places and Astronomy’s eclipse viewing widget. No doubt we’ll see your pictures and read your observations right here on Daily Kos. Because statistically, thousands of you will be in the path of totality.