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What the Heck Is This?

That is not the inside of a light bulb, nor anything else created by humans.

Astronomy buffs stand a pretty good chance of guessing this one, I bet.

It's a major solar flarethat erupted in February, and which was recently explained in a new study. The bright release of light was part of an X-class flare — the strongest type, and in this case the strongest one in almost five years — spawned by rotating sunspots. See the full image below.

Sunspots are cool regions on the sun where magnetic activity is extreme and twisted. Rotating sunspots, the new study found, can spur a flare. "Twisting the sun's magnetic field is like twisting an elastic band," Daniel Brown at University of Central Lancashire in England. "At first you store energy in the elastic, but if you twist too much the elastic band snaps, releasing the stored energy."

The electromagnetic radiation from a solar flare — radio waves, visible light, X-rays and more — reach earth in about 8.3 minutes, covering (by definition) a distance of 8.3 light-minutes.

Got a strange or interesting photo related to science, nature or technology? What the Heck, send it to me, and maybe I'll use it. And you follow me on Twitter or Facebook.

An image of the sun on Feb. 15, 2011, using composite data of the sun's surface from SDO/HMI and the sun's corona from SDO/AIA. The cutout region shows (bottom) the five rotating sunspots of the active region (AR 11158), and (top) the bright release of light from the X-class solar flare. (Image credit: D. Brown (UCLan), NASA/SDO, AIA, EVE & HMI science teams)
Robert Roy Britt
Rob was a writer and editor at Space.com starting in 1999. He served as managing editor of Live Science at its launch in 2004. He is now Chief Content Officer overseeing media properties for the sites’ parent company, Purch. Prior to joining the company, Rob was an editor at The Star-Ledger in New Jersey, and in 1998 he was founder and editor of the science news website ExploreZone. He has a journalism degree from Humboldt State University in California.