This incredible image is actually of the sun with a massive detached prominence hovering just above its surface. It shows the aftermath of a large solar flare – or prominence – emitted by an erupting sunspot earlier this month.
The sunspot itself is approximately the size of Earth and can be seen as the round black hole to the right of a group of smaller holes on the solar surface.
The image was taken by an astronomy enthusiast using a small telescope. Alan Friedman, from Buffalo, New York, affectionately calls his telescope ‘Little Big Man’.
He described it as the smallest 90mm hydrogen alpha telescope on the planet. With a diametre of less than four inches, it is equipped with a filter that only allows a narrow wavelength of light emitted by hydrogen.
This tracks the activity of gas on the sun’s surface, which picks up the solar prominence in extraordinary detail.
Mr Friedman also increases the contrast of the image by making it a negative, resulting in a uniquely textured shot of the solar surface.
He took the picture in 30mph winds at the Winter Star Party, an annual event convention of amateur astronomers in West Summerland Key, Florida.
His day job is as a graphic designer, but he spends his nights glued to the telescope and exhibits his most dramatic space photography.
‘I try to record images of scientific interest through high resolution astrophotography, but maintaining a respect for the aesthetic beauty and intrigue of the universe around us,’ Mr Friedman said.
‘I think that paying attention to art and science both has helped me to create images that share both knowledge and inspiration.’
The chances of a disruption from space are getting stronger because the sun is entering the most active period of its 11 to 12-year natural cycle. The last solar maximum occurred in 2001.
The world got a taster of the sun’s explosive power last month when the strongest solar eruption in five years sent a torrent of charged plasma hurtling towards the world at 580 miles per second.
The storm created spectacular aurorae and disrupted radio communications.