Your instinct might be to guess something microscopic in size – but the subject of this photograph is actually quite large.
Scientists working at the Solar Dynamics Observatory have spotted a massive solar filament that stretches across a good portion of the sun's visible surface. It's about 533,000 miles long (857,780 km) – equivalent to 67 Earths lined up in a row.
At first glance, this incredible close-up of roiling solar prominences on the Sun's surface looks like footage captured by a Sun-observing spacecraft. In fact, they were shot from right here on Earth.
The Sun's magnetic field is poised to reverse its polarity in the coming months. NASA's not sure exactly when – something in the next few months or so – but when it does, it'll mark the midpoint (aka "solar max") of this, the 24th Solar Cycle.
Why don't you go ahead and let this one sink in. Bask in it, if you will. We'll wait.
Launched late last month, NASA's Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) is designed to observe little-explored lower layers of the Sun's multi-level atmosphere in unprecedented detail – and its first images are already turning up surprises.
Okay, so the sun doesn't really have tornados in the same way that Earth does. But the shifting of warmer and cooler plasma across the sun's surface can create similar-looking phenomenon — in this case, a spiraling inferno as large as the Earth itself.